A new Pfizer/BioNTech vaccination for COVID-19, at a pharmacy in...

A new Pfizer/BioNTech vaccination for COVID-19, at a pharmacy in Orlando, Fla., on Sept. 15, 2023. Credit: Orlando Sentinel / Joe Burbank via AP

With seniors continuing to be disproportionally affected by severe COVID-19 illness, federal officials last week recommended that older Americans get another dose of the vaccine this spring, even if they got a shot in the fall.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that Americans 65 and older obtain another vaccine dose as long as at least four months have passed since their most recent shot.

The CDC made similar recommendations for older adults in 2022 and 2023 and the agency recently suggested that immunocompromised individuals six months or older also get an additional vaccine dose. 

Here's what you need to know about the CDC's recommendation:

Q. Why did the CDC make this recommendation now?

A. Americans 65 years and older are “disproportionately” impacted by COVID-19, with more than half of hospitalizations connected to infection from the virus from October to December 2023 occurring in this age group, the CDC said. 

In New York, seniors have among the highest infection rates in the state and the highest rates of hospitalization and death, health officials said.

Dr. Mark Mulligan, director of the NYU Langone Vaccine Center, said it's been roughly six months since the CDC last recommended seniors get an updated shot — a point when the body's vaccine-induced defenses tend to fade. That happens, officials said, faster in seniors than in other adults.

“This is already done for some immunocompromised hosts. Why not also do it for older Americans, particularly given that they make up the bulk of severe disease and death,” Mulligan said.

Q. What about the rest of the population 65 years and younger? 

A. On Sept. 12, 2023, the CDC recommended that everyone ages six months and older get an annual update of the vaccine for 2023-2024.

“It's very important for people to understand that vaccine recommendations aren't absolute,” said Dr. Aaron Glatt, chair of medicine and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital. “They don't apply to everybody evenly … The CDC didn't come out and say that every single person should get this vaccine.

“The ones that will benefit most,” he said are the ones most likely to die or get very sick if they get the virus. 

Q. How effective is the current vaccine at preventing infection and severe illness?

A. The latest COVID-19 shot offers 54% increased protection for adults against becoming infected with the virus, according to a CDC report released last month. The vaccine is the same formulation as was offered last fall.

Data shows the shot provides protection against both the strain of the virus it was originally created to target and the more recent COVID lineages and mutations currently circulating nationwide.

State Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald said the latest CDC recommendation “aligns with the department in recognizing the increased risk of severe health complications, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19 in older adults.”

Q. Are Americans generally following the CDC's guidance and getting annual shots?

A. To date, only 17% of the population nationwide have received their updated COVID shot as of last fall, although that figure is 43.3% among Americans 65 and older. 

In New York State, that figure is only 11.9% while the average on Long Island is just 9%, State Health Department figures show. Meanwhile, 34.2% of New Yorkers ages 65-74 are up-to-date with their shots along with 38.9% of those 75 and older, according to department data.

“We are clearly in the midst of vaccine fatigue,” Mulligan said. “What I'd like to suggest is this should be normalized … It's an annual thing now and a regular occurrence.”

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