COVID Hospitalizations Rise for Eighth Week in a Row

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Sept. 13, 2023 – Hospitalizations from COVID-19 rose for an eighth straight week for the period ending Sept. 2, although the increase dipped into single digits for the first time in that stretch. New hospital admissions ticked up 9%, to 18,871 people, the CDC reported in its latest dispatch of virus metrics.

Newly recommended COVID booster shots are expected to be available within days after a flurry of required approvals and recommendations this week from the CDC and the FDA. On Wednesday morning, the Walgreens website advised COVID vaccine seekers to “check back soon for additional details” and stated that existing vaccine appointments would be rescheduled pending arrival of the updated shots. The CVS website’s online scheduling tool offered COVID vaccine appointments beginning Saturday, Sept. 16.

An estimated 97% of people in the U.S. ages 16 and older had protective immunity against COVID by the end of 2022, either from infection or vaccination, according to an article summarizing the current state of the pandemic published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Meanwhile, the age-adjusted death rate from COVID dropped from 115.6 per 100,000 people, in 2021, to 61.3 per 100,000 people in 2022, which is a 47% decrease.

But the authors of the article warned that reliance on prior immunity may put people at risk because the protection from a past vaccine or infection decreases over time.

“Among adults who are otherwise healthy (‘immunocompetent’), recent estimates of vaccine effectiveness of a bivalent vaccine against hospitalization for COVID-19 were 62% compared with no vaccination in the 2 months after the bivalent dose but decreasing to 24% 4 to 6 months after the bivalent dose,” wrote Carlos del Rio, MD, executive associate dean of the Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta, and JAMA Deputy Editor Preeti N. Malani, MD, MSJ.

They also noted that for people ages 65 years and older, the immunity provided by vaccines decreases even faster.

It’s unclear what the demand will be for the newly formulated booster, which targets a strain of the virus that was dominant in January called XBB.1.5. The new formulation has been shown to boost antibodies against the virus variants currently causing the most infections.

In their JAMA article, del Rio and Malani said the impact of COVID this season may heavily depend on what people do when they feel sick.

“Regardless of test results, any person with symptoms of a respiratory infection should remain home and avoid going to school or work,” they advised. “While COVID-19 is no longer a public health threat, waves of infection will occur for the foreseeable future. How disruptive these are will depend on the behavior of the virus but also, more importantly, on the behavior of humans.”