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Older Adults Should Get Spring COVID Booster, Says CDC

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced that adults over the age of 65 — a group that faces a higher risk of severe disease from COVID-19 — can and should receive a spring booster dose.

The CDC announced this week that it is recommending and offering an additional booster shot for adults over 65 this spring. The agency says the additional dose of the updated COVID-19 vaccine may restore protection that has waned since a fall vaccine dose and provide increased protection.

The recommendation comes ahead of what is likely to be another virus surge this summer. For the past four years, according to the CDC, there have been at least two and sometimes three periods of high community transmission of COVID-19.

In 2023, for example, the percentage of positive tests reached peak levels of 14.6% in August 2023 and 12.9% in January 2024, which is similar timing to the peak levels observed in earlier years. The CDC says these high levels of test positivity are consistent with high levels also seen in wastewater.

Adults aged 65 and older are more likely to experience hospitalizations or death from COVID-19, which is why an updated booster is exceptionally important for this age group.

More than half of COVID-19 hospitalizations during the period from October 2023 to December 2023 occurred in those aged 65 and older, according to the CDC. This age group also accounted for 88% of in-hospital deaths from COVID-19, though 90% of those hospitalized had multiple pre-existing medical conditions.

Infants and people with underlying medical conditions or certain disabilities are also at an increased risk. People who are immunocompromised are already eligible for additional doses of the vaccine.

While the booster dose that is currently being offered was created to target the XBB.1.5 subvariant, the vaccine is also effective against the JN.1 subvariant. According to the CDC, this subvariant is currently responsible for more than 96% of new infections throughout the country.

“Today’s recommendation allows older adults to receive an additional dose of this season’s COVID-19 vaccine to provide added protection,” said CDC Director Mandy Cohen, M.D., M.P.H., in a news release. “Most COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations last year were among people 65 years and older. An additional vaccine dose can provide added protection that may have decreased over time for those at highest risk.”

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