Empty nursing home bed and wheelchair

As the SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to mutate and vaccines become less effective, the oldest seniors are having a harder time fighting off severe illness, according to a new report from the Washington Post.

The oldest Americans, especially those in long-term care facilities, were hit hardest by COVID-19 early in the pandemic. Vaccinations helped bring a welcome decrease in the fall, slashing the number of cases and deaths among these seniors. Yet now, although most seniors are vaccinated, U.S. COVID-19 deaths among those aged 75 years and older are rising, according to the Post’s analysis of new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

During the surge of the delta variant in 2021, patients aged 50 to 74 accounted for the highest number of COVID-19 deaths. But as omicron became the dominant variant in 2022, the 75-and-older group accounted for nearly two-thirds of overall deaths, compared to one third during the delta period, the Post determined. 

The change has directly contributed to climbing rates of death among vaccinated Americans overall, experts told the news outlet. Vaccinated Americans accounted for 42% deaths during the recent surge of the omicron variant, compared with 23% in September, when delta was prominent, it reported. 

Although it’s still more dangerous to be unvaccinated, the concept of “a pandemic of and by the unvaccinated is not correct,” public health researcher Andrew Noymer, Ph.D., of the University of California at Irvine, told the news outlet. “People still need to take care in terms of prevention and action if they become symptomatic,” he said.

The CDC’s recent data for nursing homes, meanwhile, shows an April increase in weekly, facility-reported COVID-19 cases among residents, although rates remain much lower than they were in January and February. Deaths, last recorded in April, have dropped steadily since late January and have continued to remain nearly flat since March.