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CDC Urges Spring COVID-19 Shots for People 65 and Over

Extra dose of vaccine would boost protection in older adults at higher risk for severe illness


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Health officials are recommending at the advice of independent advisers that adults 65 and older get another dose of the COVID-19 vaccine this spring to strengthen their protection from the virus that is still putting nearly 20,000 Americans in the hospital each week.

In a statement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that the new recommendation acknowledges the increased risk of severe illness in older adults. 

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The rate of COVID-19 hospital admissions for older adults continues to tower over younger populations. More than half of COVID-19 hospitalizations from October 2023 to December 2023 occurred in this 65-plus age group, CDC data shows. Mortality rates are also highest among older adults; more than 1,800 Americans died from COVID-19 the week of Jan. 27. 

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And while health experts say the vaccine continues to provide protection even against currently circulating variants, older adults are more likely to experience waning protection due to natural, age-related immune changes.

“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,” CDC Director Mandy Cohen, M.D., said in a statement.

COVID-19 isn’t a seasonal virus — yet

Surveillance data indicates that winter’s COVID surge is receding, but health experts stress that the virus has not yet settled into a seasonal pattern like influenza, RSV and other respiratory illnesses, and that waves of COVID-19 infections can occur in spring and summer months — and have in the past.

“I think we all feel that things with COVID are still unpredictable, particularly as new variants arise,” Megan Wallace, an epidemiologist with the CDC, said during a Feb. 28 meeting with vaccine advisers.

The vaccine that’s being recommended for the spring shot is the same vaccine that was made available in the fall of 2023. Three versions of this vaccine are available in doctors’ offices and pharmacies: an mRNA vaccine from Moderna, an mRNA vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech, and a protein-based vaccine from Novavax.

Vaccines recommended by the CDC’s advisory panel, known as ACIP, or the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, are covered by Medicare.

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Health experts say those interested in a spring shot should be at least four months out from their previous COVID-19 vaccine. About 42 percent of adults age 65 and older have received the updated COVID-19 vaccine since September 2023.

The vaccine, which could shake out to be an annual shot for the general population, is expected to get updated again in the fall. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced that its independent panel of advisers will meet on May 16 to discuss and make recommendations on the coronavirus strains that should be included in the 2024-2025 COVID-19 vaccines.

Currently the JN.1 variant accounts for more than 96 percent of coronavirus infections in the U.S.

People who are immunocompromised and are also at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19 were already eligible to receive additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccine under previous CDC recommendations.

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