A new analysis finds overall COVID deaths remain much lower than early in the pandemic, but the share of those dying who are 65 or older is the highest yet.
A new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) reveals that COVID-19 deaths among people 65 and older surged this summer, more than doubling between April and July.
Indeed, the number of deaths topped more than 11,000 people 65 and older in both July and August.
For people younger than 65, deaths have increased more slowly since April, rising by 52 percent to about 1,900 in both July and August 2022.
Despite the determination of many Americans to move on and resume normal activities, COVID-19 continues to exact a toll, especially among older adults, KFF said in an announcement.
As of the week ending October 1, the United States had lost nearly 1.1 million lives to COVID-19, including about 790,000 people ages 65 and older. Although people 65 and older are 16 percent of the country’s population, they account for 75 percent of all COVID deaths to date.
Since the summer of 2021, COVID deaths among people 65 and older have been growing as a share of all deaths. The nearly 7,100 deaths among this age group in September 2022 accounted for 88 percent of all COVID deaths that month–the highest share since the pandemic began. (The absolute number of monthly COVID deaths in this age group peaked at more than 85,000 in January 2021.) The new analysis contains detailed data on the number and share of COVID-19 deaths by age in each month of the pandemic.
The recent rise in deaths is attributed to increasing cases due to the more transmissible Omicron variant. Other factors include relatively low booster uptake and waning vaccine immunity, underscoring the importance of staying up to date on vaccination, particularly for older adults. Last month, public health authorities began encouraging eligible Americans to get new bivalent booster shots recently authorized by the Food and Drug Administration that target both the original strain of the virus and the more recent Omicron subvariants.
Meanwhile, a new report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) shows fewer COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths because 90 percent of seniors are fully vaccinated and more than 70 percent of seniors received a booster shot.
The vaccination program is linked to more than 650,000 fewer COVID-19 hospitalizations and more than 300,000 fewer deaths among seniors and other Americans enrolled in Medicare. HHS said the study, which was conducted by researchers with HHS's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), underscores the importance of Americans–particularly seniors and others at high risk of serious outcomes–getting an updated COVID-19 vaccine this fall.
“This report reaffirms what we have said all along: COVID-19 vaccines save lives and prevent hospitalizations," HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in an announcement, adding that “Over 90 percent of Americans live within five miles of where they can access these vaccines for free. I urge everyone eligible to get an updated COVID vaccine to protect yourself ahead of the fall and winter.”
In addition to the reductions in severe COVID-19 health outcomes due to the vaccinations, HHS associated reductions in COVID-19 hospitalizations to savings of more than $16 billion in direct medical costs.
KFF has also released a second report that examines COVID vaccination rates among residents and staff of nursing facilities, where the virus poses a particularly strong threat, and finds that although initial vaccination rates for both groups were quite high, take-up of earlier boosters has been lower. (Sufficient data on take-up of the bivalent boosters is not yet available, however.)
More than 85 percent of residents and staff had completed the primary vaccination series as of September 18. Only 74 percent of all residents and 51 percent of all staff (including those who did not complete the primary series) had received one or more booster shots as of that date. Vaccination and booster rates in nursing facilities also varied considerably across the states, among both residents and staff. In 30 states, fewer than half of all staff had received one or more booster shots as of September 18.
Recent KFF polling shows that public awareness about the new boosters is modest, although older adults—who tend to be at greater risk of serious illness and death—are most likely to know about the new shots. Thirty-two percent of all adults say that they’ve either gotten the new booster (5 percent) or intend to do so as soon as possible (27 percent). Among older adults (ages 65 and up), 45 percent say they’ve already gotten the new booster (eight percent) or plan to get it as soon as possible (37 percent).