Who is still dying of COVID?

Infectious Diseases Treatments Vaccines

Nerdy Girl Dr. Jenn Dowd answers your COVID question.

➡️ A lot of people who could be benefiting from vaccines and treatment but are not.

The good news is that COVID mortality is much lower than it has been in previous winters. The bad news is that this winter, close to 2000 Americans per week were still dying of COVID, many times higher than deaths due to flu.

But who is still dying from COVID? Even though almost everyone has some immunity from vaccines or previous infection, COVID is a nasty virus and can still be deadly. As you might expect, people who have always been at highest risk for severe COVID are generally the ones still dying. Looking at 2023 data, almost 90% of people who died from COVID in the hospital were over age 65. And of the people over age 65 admitted to the hospital for COVID, over 90% had more than one chronic condition, the most common being diabetes, kidney disease, and coronary artery disease. Sadly, only 23.5% had received the recommended COVID-19 bivalent vaccine.

While that study did not include information on COVID-19 treatments, we know from other studies that many people who should be offered COVID treatment in the form of antivirals are not. Antiviral medications such as Paxlovid can dramatically reduce the risk of COVID hospitalization and death and are recommended for people with COVID who are at high risk for severe COVID-19 because of age or medical conditions.

A recent study of immunocompromised patients (so those people really at highest risk) in the VA system who tested positive for COVID found that only 28% of them took antiviral treatments. In a chart review of those not receiving treatment, 80% were not even offered treatment due to what the clinician considered mild symptoms. Now this is a real problem since treatment should be started within 5 days of symptom onset to be effective, but progression to severe COVID for high-risk people often doesn’t happen until the 2nd week of illness. We really can’t wait to see if people progress to severe disease to give treatment because by then, it’s too late, and we’ve missed our chance. This would be like waiting to put your seatbelt on until after a car crash just because it might only be a fender bender—this is not a risk we need to take.

So, the Bottom line is that there are still too many people dying of COVID-19—close to 2000 a week in the US. Most of these people *should* be getting COVID treatment but are not. So, besides our trusty prevention measures, let’s make sure we are taking advantage of the miraculous vaccines and treatments we have to keep us and our loved ones safe.

This content is sponsored by the Covid-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project (CVEEP).

ABC News: Why are 1,500 Americans still dying from COVID every week?

CDC: Underuse of Antiviral Drugs to Prevent Progression to Severe COVID-19 — Veterans Health Administration, March–September 2022

NIH: COVID-19–Associated Hospitalizations Among U.S. Adults Aged ≥65 Years — COVID-NET, 13 States, January–August 2023

CDC: Trends in United States COVID-19 Hospitalizations, Deaths, Emergency Department (ED) Visits, and Test Positivity by Geographic Area

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