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Hospitalization among older adults reached a pronounced peak during the pandemic’s omicron BA.2 wave in comparison with younger adults, with vaccinations providing less protection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Seniors have been at high risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes throughout the pandemic, and as a group they have experienced the highest hospitalization rates, according to data released Thursday in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.  

The proportion of hospitalized adults aged 65 years and older rose during the delta and omicron periods of the pandemic. When omicron BA.2 came on the scene, it proved more highly transmissible than previous variants. Weekly hospitalization rates (per 100,000 population) in senior adults increased more than threefold during a period between March 20 and May 31, 2022, when that variant dominated.

Not only were a higher proportion of seniors hospitalized during that time, but COVID-19–associated hospitalization rates increased among adults aged 65 years and older relative to rates in younger adults, investigators reported.

Vaccination effects

Vaccination wasn’t enough to keep some people from severe disease, with hospitalizations rising among vaccinated adults as the pandemic progressed. Fully 44% of hospitalized, non-pregnant patients had received a primary COVID-19 vaccination series, plus one booster or additional dose during the BA.2 period. Still, unvaccinated adults had greater odds of poor outcomes, with nearly triple the hospitalizations of their vaccinated peers, CDC investigators reported.

The takeaway? Vaccination remains a key step in preventing serious outcomes from COVID-19, but older and at-risk individuals could use additional protection, Christopher A. Taylor, PhD, and colleagues on the CDC COVID-19 Emergency Response Team, concluded.

“Adults should stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccination, including booster doses,” they wrote. “Multiple non-pharmaceutical and medical prevention measures should be used to protect persons at high risk for severe SARS-CoV-2, regardless of vaccination status.”

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