With the increase in general vaccinations and the reduction in coronavirus cases in the country, many Americans are experiencing a newfound sense of hope that there may finally be a light at the end of the tunnel.
For the first time, patients between the ages of 18 and 64 represent the largest cohort of a total of 37,000 patients currently hospitalized with the virus. With more older Americans vaccinated, this marks the third week that the number of hospitalized people in the 65- and older age group is lower than in the 1
“Hospitals are seeing more and more younger people, those aged 30 and 40, admitted with a serious illness,” said Dr. Rochelle Valenski, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), during a briefing during the press earlier this month.
Experts say the exact reason for this trend is unclear, but may include increasing options, a calm attitude to distancing and other mitigation measures, a younger population that has not yet been fully vaccinated, and vaccine fluctuations. They may just be younger people suffering from the disease.
Although not all hospitalizations are the result of a serious illness, government officials say the trend is worrying.
“There is a very sharp increase, it seems, in younger people … these are largely people who think that their age protects them from many COVID-19 patients, which is not the case,” said Cassie Sauer, chief executive. director and president of the Washington Hospital Association, told a news conference Monday.
Dr Chris Baliga, a Virginia Mason Franciscan infectious disease physician in Washington, said earlier this week that he had seen more patients under the age of 40 than at any time in the pandemic, noting that younger patients appear to be coming sicker than before.
“40% of our cases were under the age of 40, which is amazing to me. We never saw this during the pandemic, “Baliga said at a briefing on Monday.
According to experts, this trend may be the result of a number of factors.
Dr Katie Scharf, an infectious disease expert at Kaiser Permanente, told ABC News that one of the driving factors may be simply that more young people are becoming infected and that there will inevitably be more serious cases.
Whereas earlier in the pandemic, the disease affected mostly older adults, coronavirus infections now account for the highest proportion of new cases per 100,000 population among Americans aged 18-54.
Scharf also said she had seen more patients in her Oregon hospital between the ages of 40 and 50 in need of hospitalization, with some patients under the age of 30 admitted to the intensive care unit, and a smaller percentage should be placed on mechanical ventilation.
In Oregon, the daily incidence of COVID-19 has doubled and the number of patients hospitalized with the virus has increased by 106%.
“If you have so many young people getting infected, at least there will be a subgroup that develops a serious illness,” Scharf explained. Although some patients have pre-existing medical conditions, such as obesity, what is “really striking about this jump” is that not all younger patients in need of care have medical conditions that put them at high risk.
Part of the problem, Scharf said, is that younger people, when infected, tend to stay home a little longer to deal with their symptoms, unlike older Americans, who are usually hospitalized more often. early in their illnesses.
Because the U.S. vaccination strategy targets high-risk individuals, almost all of these younger hospitalized patients have not yet been vaccinated, Samuel Scarpino, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at Northeastern University, told ABC News.
“In previous jumps, most of our patients were elderly and had chronic illnesses. “We see less of this very elderly population, and I think that really speaks to the effectiveness of vaccines,” Scharf said.
Earlier this month, all 50 countries opened vaccinations for residents aged 16 and over, but it will take some time for these younger populations to be fully protected, Scarpino explained.
“With a 4 to 6-week delay between the first dose and the full level of immunity, it will be several more weeks before these age groups have the same level of protection as older individuals who were vaccinated months ago,” Scarpino said.
Vaccine fluctuations, pandemic fatigue and variants
But there are other younger people who have chosen not to be vaccinated, Scharf said. “I think the hesitation of the vaccine is quite real,” Scharf said.
Demand for vaccines has been steadily declining in recent weeks, as those eager to be vaccinated take pictures and staff work to persuade those more tired to be vaccinated.
In the last seven days alone, the average number of vaccines given has fallen by nearly 12% from an average of 3.3 million doses given a day earlier this month to 2.6 million on Thursday.
According to a recent ABC News / Washington Post poll, nearly 1 in 4 Americans, 24%, do not want to receive any of the coronavirus vaccines, compared to 32% three months ago. 16% of respondents completely exclude vaccination.
In addition, more transmissible and potentially fatal variants now account for the majority of new cases in the United States. The national prevalence of B.1.1.7, originally identified in the UK and now, is now estimated at almost 60% of new cases, according to the CDC.
“I think this is the driving force behind much of what we see in the younger population,” Baliga said, adding that he considered it the “most important” factor increasing the number.
More and more people are succumbing to “pandemic fatigue” and thus leaving their guard with careless social distancing and COVID-19 protocols, experts say, with many also blaming their infection for increased social gatherings and travel.
In addition, the combination of more infectious strains of the virus with lower vaccination levels has made young people more vulnerable to the virus.
In Massachusetts, coronavirus variants appear to be affecting younger people more severely than earlier strains of the disease last year, with an increasing number of people in their 20s and 50s being hospitalized, Gov. Charlie Baker told a news conference in Massachusetts. Monday.
Although the risk of COVID-19-related mortality remains lower among young populations than among older age groups, Baliga reports that there are still some young patients who are susceptible to the virus, which he calls “preventable. disease “with vaccines,” he said.
To date, more than 86,000 Americans between the ages of 18 and 64 have died from COVID-19, representing approximately 19.4% of the number of virus-related deaths in the United States.
Younger people, in particular, may feel less vulnerable to the disease than older people at risk, Sauer said, but they should not assume they are “safe from the disease.”
“Our best way out of this pandemic is to get vaccinated,” Scharf said. “We’re all so exhausted, including me, but like when you see young people in the hospital dying, you just have to face it and say this is real. We need to get vaccinated. “
Brian Hartman of ABC News contributed to this report.