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More than 90% of COVID deaths occurring among elderly adults: CDC

Hamartia Antidote

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Older people have always been known to be one of the groups at highest risk of death from COVID-19, but they now make up a larger share than ever before.

As of the week ending Nov. 19, Americans aged 65 and older make up 92% of all deaths from the virus, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It's the first time senior citizens have made up more than nine out of 10 deaths since the pandemic began and a drastic increase from the roughly 58% of deaths they made up in summer 2021, an ABC News analysis shows.

An infectious disease expert told ABC News the data showcases the lack of boosters received by the older population and how the impact of the disease is hitting the most vulnerable as protection mounts in the population.

CovidElderly_v03_DP_1669830073434_hpEmbed_1x1_992.jpg


"The bottom line is that age is the most powerful risk factor for COVID deaths and we've known that all along," Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, told ABC News. "At this point in the pandemic, it's not enough to just get a vaccine series. So, what it reflects is the failure of the older age group to get boosters."

As of Nov. 24, just one-third of people aged 65 and older have received the bivalent boosters, CDC data shows.

The updated booster specifically protects against the omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, currently making up about 20% of infections in the U.S.

While this percentage is higher than most other age groups, Chin-Hong said it's still quite low for a group at high risk of severe illness and death.

"Before vaccines, seniors died disproportionately but it wasn't even as profound of a difference between the seniors and non-seniors," he said. "But it was it's kind of almost like a U-shaped curve with the beginning a high [number of] seniors [dying], then low number of seniors, relatively speaking, then high seniors again."

Additionally, it's not just unboosted seniors who are at risk of dying. According to the CDC, as of Oct. 1 -- the latest date for which data is available -- unvaccinated seniors aged 80 and older are dying at the highest rate of 14.6 per 100,000 followed by unvaccinated seniors aged 65 to 79 at 5.68 per 100,000.

Those above age 65 vaccinated but without an updated booster had the next highest death rates at 3.69 per 100,000 for those above age 80 and 0.71 per 100,000 for those aged 65 to 79.

Chin-Hong said more effort needs to be made at getting vaccines and boosters to seniors, such as nursing homes and community centers, like they were during the start of the vaccination campaign.

"We started vaccinating that age group very diligently," he said. "In the old days, they were first in line. Everybody wanted grandma and grandma to get vaccines. But that's only part of the picture and the immune system needs a reminder now and that's when you'll see [complications] the most."
 

Hamartia Antidote

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Hundreds of Canadians are still dying of COVID-19 every week. Who are they?​


Even in her 80s, Josephine Moschitto still cheered on her beloved Toronto Blue Jays, went grocery shopping near her retirement home, and had recently discovered the joys of playing Wordle on her iPad.

The Mississauga, Ont., resident lost her husband of six decades in early 2021, and had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. But she was healthy, mobile and still enjoyed time with family, including a lunch with her loved ones in September.

"And she looked perfectly fine," her son Victor recalled. "We were all talking, laughing ... then a week later, circumstances changed."

That's when Josephine started showing symptoms of COVID-19. And, despite her having received four vaccine doses, the virus took a serious toll.

The 89-year-old went to a local hospital in late September, and spent a few days in a bed in the emergency department, waiting for a room. At first her illness seemed mild — with none of the telltale breathing problems that used to strike so many COVID patients — but she slowly began to decline.

Victor and his sister Laura visited their mother as much as possible, often playing her favourite oldies, until the hospital stopped allowing visitors during a COVID-19 outbreak.

"Then she just took a turn for the worse," Laura said.

In her last few days at the hospital, Josephine was put on oxygen and developed pneumonia. She didn't want to be intubated, so she was never transferred into intensive care.

She died on Oct. 9.

"I always thought to myself that my mom had a few good years left in her," Victor said.

"You all of a sudden realize that the disease that has captured so many lives is actually affecting your family's life."

People such as Josephine — who are elderly, or medically frail for other reasons — are now the classic victims of COVID-19.

And hundreds of Canada's most vulnerable are still dying, every single week, with countrywide deaths stuck at stubbornly high levels in recent months, federal data shows.

That means Canadian families continue to lose loved ones to this virus on a regular basis, all while hospitals are still admitting seriously ill COVID-19 patients in the midst of ongoing staff shortages, surgery backlogs and a busy respiratory virus season.

"We all have sort of moved into another phase of living with the virus," said Dr. Kali Barrett, a critical care physician with the University Health Network in Toronto.

"But for those at risk, the pandemic continues to be a real and legitimate threat."

'Completely different patient population'​

The weekly death rate from COVID-19 in Canada has skyrocketed, then dipped, in dramatic peaks and valleys since it began spreading in early 2020.

But while weekly deaths dropped into the double digits at several points in 2020 and 2021, the tally hasn't dipped below 137 throughout all of 2022. (The numbers are provided to the federal government by the provinces and territories, and no longer include Nunavut or the Northwest Territories.)

That shift follows provinces lifting public health restrictions, all while the Omicron family of sub-variants kept evolving to better evade our immune systems.

For nearly four months straight, weekly Canadian COVID-19 deaths have remained above 200 — and the latest available data shows there were 305 lives lost during the week of Oct. 16.

CBC News spoke to multiple physicians to get a sense of what's behind that trend, and who's dying of COVID-19 in late 2022. Canadians who are elderly, already battling multiple pre-existing health conditions, or undergoing immune-suppressing treatments such as chemotherapy all remain at a higher risk of dying.

Some are winding up in critical care, while others are now being treated for their illnesses and eventually dying in other settings, including other hospital wards.

"It's a completely different patient population than the earlier waves," said Dr. Bram Rochwerg, a critical care physician with Hamilton Health Sciences in Hamilton, Ont.

He recounted the horror stories of COVID's early days: Young, healthy adults becoming incredibly sick and winding up in intensive care on mechanical ventilation, or even extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), the highest form of life support.

"We're not seeing those young, previously healthy, super-sick folks that we saw at the peak of Delta," he said.

Dr. Gabriel Fabreau, an internal medicine physician in Calgary and an assistant professor at the University of Calgary, credits effective vaccines and treatments for that shift.

Vaccinated individuals — meaning those who completed their primary COVID-19 vaccine series and had at least one booster dose — were three times less likely to be hospitalized, and five times less likely to die from their illness, compared to unvaccinated Canadians, according to data from late August to late September 2022.

Fabreau said more recently, his seriously ill COVID-19 patients are typically medically frail, immunocompromised, or still unvaccinated.

Rochwerg, in Hamilton, agreed. "It's older folks, it's those with immune-compromised states on chemotherapy with advanced cancer, frail comorbidities, that are ending up getting sick with COVID-related illness," he said.

"It's extremely rare to see somebody that doesn't have these comorbidities that ends up in the ICU sick with COVID."

Deaths among elderly, with comorbidities​

The latest-available data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) suggests the trend persists across the country, with poorer outcomes observed for patients with more than one disease or condition. Those dying in hospital also skewed older than those who didn't die, with a median age of 76 compared to 60.

Canadian COVID-19 patients with at least one comorbidity had an average hospital stay eight days longer than those without comorbidities, and a higher in-hospital death rate of 20 per cent compared to seven per cent.

South of the border, U.S. Centers for Disease Control data released in September also shows that while the overall mortality for patients hospitalized primarily for COVID-19 has dropped, seniors are still hardest hit.

The vast majority of 2022 deaths, at more than 80 per cent, were among those 65 and older, and three-quarters had three — or more — comorbidities.

But, to be clear, people juggling multiple health issues aren't necessarily close to death.
In Toronto, the majority of patients with COVID-19 who are ending up in Barrett's intensive care unit are already frail from cancer treatment. Many, she said, might have had years left to live before developing COVID-19.

"These were patients who may have — if they got through their chemotherapy — were going to fully recover and go back to a normal life," she said.

Several physicians also noted other patients are admitted to hospital for different ailments but also test positive, while some catch the virus during their stays.

"There are hospital-acquired outbreaks that are continuing to happen that do account for some of those numbers that we're seeing," said Dr. Neeja Bakshi, an internal medicine physician at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton.

Those differences may muddy the data on why exactly people are dying, but Barrett stressed that any time a patient is battling both COVID-19 and another health issue, it heightens their risk of poor outcomes.

COVID hospitalizations rising​

The high number of patients falling ill with this virus threatens to further strain Canadian health-care systems this winter.

"We simply cannot expand any further and we don't have the resources to go into the season," Bakshi warned. "And I can tell you that nobody in any level of hospital administration or clinical care is sleeping easy."

Canada-wide, the number of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients increased from 3,875 to more than 4,100 between Oct. 17 and 24, federal data shows.

Even if just a small percentage of COVID-19 patients are still falling seriously ill, that's capable of adding a huge amount of stress to health-care systems, Rochwerg said.

"Our capacity to deal with critically ill patients right now has never been lower than it is at this moment in time," he said.

The sickest COVID-19 patients are now being cared for across hospital wards more broadly, including emergency departments and inpatient wards that are also facing pressure from other respiratory illnesses, from influenza to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

That's layering on top of efforts to catch up on a backlog of thousands of surgeries and procedures, all while more Canadians are expected to present to hospitals with more serious forms of cancer or lingering health impacts from prior COVID-19 infections — all ripple effects from this years-long pandemic.

"It's led to truly a perfect storm," Rochwerg said.

Seniors, loved ones urged to take precautions​

As the temperature dips and Canadians spend more time indoors, inadvertently spreading viruses such as SARS-CoV-2, influenza and RSV, physicians say it's critical that vulnerable seniors and their families take precautions.

Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics for Sinai Health and the University Health Network in Toronto, recommended all Canadian seniors consider getting three different shots this fall season: An updated bivalent COVID-19 booster, annual flu shot and pneumonia vaccine if they're eligible.

"You can actually get all three of those at the same time," Sinha said.

Elderly Canadians living in long-term care facilities or retirement homes might have an easier time accessing these shots, Sinha said.

The bigger concern? Seniors living independently in communities, who may require help from family members or neighbours.

Loved ones should also consider taking extra care around any-at risk relatives, Sinha added. That could mean some combination of being vaccinated, wearing a quality mask, or taking a COVID-19 rapid test before family events this fall and winter.

"The loneliness will just kill you alone," Sinha said. "The idea is, try to live your life, but do so safely."

'A bigger risk than we realize'​

As the Moschitto family continues mourning the recent loss of 89-year-old Josephine, her children take comfort knowing they tried to protect her, and that her retirement home was vigilant in maintaining COVID-19 precautions.

"You can't stop it, at some point, from infiltrating you — it's hard to deal with," Victor said. "But you have to at some point come to accept what happened."

josephine-moschitto.JPG

Josephine Moschitto, shown in this family photographer with her late husband, passed away on Oct. 9 from COVID-19 at the age of 89
Still, both siblings hoped Josephine had a few more years left to live.

A few more years filled with morning conversations about how long it took her to guess the day's Wordle, or family dinners featuring her beloved recipe for spaghetti and meatballs, or moments spent with her three grandchildren.

"People want to return to normal, but you know, maybe there is a bigger risk than we realize with that return to normalcy," Victor said.
 

mili

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It's ok, it's mainly the blacks and other minorities.
Dont worry, mainly the over 65.
After this winter with rsv, abc, vaping and heaven knows whatever mumbo jumbo they come up with next, it'll be "relax! it's just the under 12."

The thing with the west is that, even among their own population, they practice the law of the jungle.
 

Abdul Rehman Majeed

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Older people have always been known to be one of the groups at highest risk of death from COVID-19, but they now make up a larger share than ever before.

As of the week ending Nov. 19, Americans aged 65 and older make up 92% of all deaths from the virus, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It's the first time senior citizens have made up more than nine out of 10 deaths since the pandemic began and a drastic increase from the roughly 58% of deaths they made up in summer 2021, an ABC News analysis shows.

An infectious disease expert told ABC News the data showcases the lack of boosters received by the older population and how the impact of the disease is hitting the most vulnerable as protection mounts in the population.

CovidElderly_v03_DP_1669830073434_hpEmbed_1x1_992.jpg


"The bottom line is that age is the most powerful risk factor for COVID deaths and we've known that all along," Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, told ABC News. "At this point in the pandemic, it's not enough to just get a vaccine series. So, what it reflects is the failure of the older age group to get boosters."

As of Nov. 24, just one-third of people aged 65 and older have received the bivalent boosters, CDC data shows.

The updated booster specifically protects against the omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, currently making up about 20% of infections in the U.S.

While this percentage is higher than most other age groups, Chin-Hong said it's still quite low for a group at high risk of severe illness and death.

"Before vaccines, seniors died disproportionately but it wasn't even as profound of a difference between the seniors and non-seniors," he said. "But it was it's kind of almost like a U-shaped curve with the beginning a high [number of] seniors [dying], then low number of seniors, relatively speaking, then high seniors again."

Additionally, it's not just unboosted seniors who are at risk of dying. According to the CDC, as of Oct. 1 -- the latest date for which data is available -- unvaccinated seniors aged 80 and older are dying at the highest rate of 14.6 per 100,000 followed by unvaccinated seniors aged 65 to 79 at 5.68 per 100,000.

Those above age 65 vaccinated but without an updated booster had the next highest death rates at 3.69 per 100,000 for those above age 80 and 0.71 per 100,000 for those aged 65 to 79.

Chin-Hong said more effort needs to be made at getting vaccines and boosters to seniors, such as nursing homes and community centers, like they were during the start of the vaccination campaign.

"We started vaccinating that age group very diligently," he said. "In the old days, they were first in line. Everybody wanted grandma and grandma to get vaccines. But that's only part of the picture and the immune system needs a reminder now and that's when you'll see [complications] the most."

Great news for the government as government can save a lot of money needed for Social Security and Medicare payments.

This is indeed a great win.
 

beijingwalker

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Are old people also humans? in what culture senior citizens are just expendable?

In Chinese culture children would rather die if their parents can live. Covid approaches do reflect cultural differences in different cultures.
 

Dungeness

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Just about to receive the Social Security benefits they worked their entire life for!!! Good for USA though. Chinese government is simply too dumb in comparision.
 

Meengla

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Are old people also humans? in what culture senior citizens are just expendable?

In Chinese culture children would rather die if their parents can live. Covid approaches do reflect cultural differences in different cultures.

Western civilization--perhaps in its most extreme manifestation, is in the United States of America-- has a very 'utilitarian' view of life. To sum it up, something like 'You had your chance. Now move on and let me live'. Heck, I remember a major article in NY Times a few years ago, titled something like 'Mother, I love you. But please die!'

Just about to receive the Social Security benefits they worked their entire life for!!! Good for USA though. Chinese government is simply too dumb in comparision.

It sure would benefit the Social Security administration to not payback to the retirees. The system is supposed to be underfunded very soon; perhaps in less than ten years.
 

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