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Those over 80 not yet infected with COVID at high risk from infection: study

Older seniors are being urged to get the updated shot to reduce their risk.
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It’s especially critical for those over 80 who haven’t yet been infected with COVID to get the updated vaccine, says the lead author of a new study. THE CANADIAN PRESS

People age 80 and up who have not yet had COVID-19 three years into the pandemic may seem a lucky bunch, but a new study shows they remain at persistent high risk of serious outcomes, including hospitalization and death, if they do contract it.

For that group, it’s critical to get vaccinated, said Danuta M. Skowronski, lead author of a new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The paper, whose expert contributors include provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, looks at the risk of hospital admission and death from first-ever SARS-CoV-2 infection by age group.

Serious illness from a first-time COVID-19 infection increases starting at age 50, when risk remains low, until 80 and older, when the risk rises “quite dramatically.”

One in 30 adults age 80 and older were hospitalized due to first-time infection, compared with one in 300 for children age five and younger.

More than 80 per cent of people in B.C. under age 50 have had a prior infection and more than 80 per cent are vaccinated.

“It’s really the older age band 80 years of age and older where we’re seeing still a substantial proportion remaining uninfected and it’s that group that we’re most concerned about,” Skowronski said.

Even though some seniors have had four or more shots through the pandemic, they received the “ancestral” strain, she said, which means they need to get the updated shot, especially if they have not yet been infected.

The updated monovalent mRNA vaccine, which has been adapted to the Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5, exposes a person to “more diverse parts of that ­rapidly evolving SARS -CoV-2 virus and that — in lieu of infection — will help to make the immune system better recognize other variants, rather than the original ancestral strain only,” she said.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said as of Sunday night, 740,529 influenza vaccines and 528,525 COVID-19 vaccines had been administered in B.C. since the beginning of the respiratory illness immunization campaign in early October, putting B.C. far ahead of the other Canadian jurisdictions that provide the information.

“Obviously 1.2 million vaccinations in the first three weeks when most provinces only started about a week ago was a pretty good thing.”

Last year, 35 per cent of people got their COVID-19 and influenza shots together while this year so far, it’s 65 per cent, he said.

Invitations to book vaccinations have been sent to 3.5 million people so far, starting with health-care workers, long-term care residents, clinically vulnerable people, those over age 65, then children six months to age 18, and finally, people 18 to 64 in descending order.

“Right now we’re in the 30s in terms of people getting their invitations,” said Dix.

Another 208,000 invitation reminders have been sent to people 65 and older who have not yet booked their shots.

On Monday, 25,900 appointments were booked in B.C., with the highest uptake in Island Health, which may partly be due to the older demographic on the Island.

Most people registered with the government’s Get Vaccinated website should have already received an invitation to book based on their age and vulnerability to becoming seriously ill with a respiratory illness, although invitations for those age 18 to 30 are still going out.

Anyone not yet registered for COVID-19 and flu vaccinations can go to GetVaccinated.gov.bc.ca or phone 1-833-838-2323.

Some pharmacies also offer shots on a walk-in basis.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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