With the number of coronaviruses on the rise again, and the pressure on the health care system from flu and other infectious diseases, experts are concerned that not enough people have received the new vaccine against COVID-19.

Just over 17% of eligible New Jersey residents have received a bivalent booster designed to better fight the evolving virus, state officials said Tuesday, urging parents to make sure their children are fully immunized against COVID-19. According to federal data, the updated rate of increase is 13.5% for all Americans age 18 and older.

While New Jersey ranks ahead of the national average, revaccination rates here range from 6.4% among 5- to 11-year-olds to nearly 36% for seniors, according to the state health department. Gov. Phil Murphy encouraged everyone to be up to date on their vaccinations, including children ages 6 months to 4 years, a group that received federal approval for a new booster earlier this month.

“As we approach the upcoming winter holidays, when travel and gatherings are commonplace, getting the updated bivalent vaccine and boosting will give New Jersey residents and their children additional protection against highly transmissible omicron subvariants,” said the state’s health commissioner. Judy Persicilli; cases often increase after the holidays, including last Thanksgiving.

While New York has urged people to wear masks in crowds, Murphy said Monday that he doesn’t see the need for any mask mandates or other public health measures in New Jersey at this time.

Best rates in nursing homes

Coverage of bivalent booster therapy is generally higher in nursing homes than in the general population, but elder advocates fear that is not enough to protect this highly vulnerable population, which saw elevated mortality rates early in the pandemic.

Nationwide, 45% of nursing home residents and 22% of staff received a new booster as of the end of November. new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization that studies health care issues. New Jersey businesses report rates of 51% and 39%, respectively, second only to California.

“The last two winters have seen the worst impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and these lagging rates of amplification put many nursing home residents and staff at increased risk of infection and death,” said Kathy York, AARP New Jersey’s associate director of advocacy. “We think these facilities should prioritize vaccinating people and getting their boosters up to date.”

AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins made a similar message last week during a roundtable she hosted with White House COVID-19 experts Ashish Jha and Anthony Fauci.

The death rate in nursing homes here and across the country has dropped from 20% of COVID-19 cases to less than 3% today.

The propaganda organization of the elderly supervises a dashboard which tracks cases, vaccination rates and staffing levels in nursing homes across the country. Data from mid-October for New Jersey showed that 52% of residents and more than 48% of staff were up-to-date on their immunizations, a category broadly defined by AARP to include those who received an initial series of vaccines or a traditional booster vaccine as part of their immunizations. in the past two months, in addition to those who received the new bivalent booster. Those numbers will be updated later this week, according to AARP.

“It’s good that we’re doing well in New Jersey” compared to other states, York said, “but we need to see growth. Some facilities are still behind and we still have quite low rates as we enter a period of high risk.”

General trends

For now current diagnoses of COVID-19 remain well below peaks during previous outbreaks, the number of cases has continued to rise in recent weeks, state data showed, figures that do not include most home test results. The transfer rate, or RT — the most important measure of distribution — rose to 1.61 in early December, an 11-month high, before falling again.

As of March 2020, nearly 2.9 million New Jersey residents have been diagnosed with the disease and more than 35,200 have died as a result, with black and Hispanic residents having higher rates of infection, serious illness, and death than whites. Nearly 9,900 – at least 28% – of the reported deaths were linked to nursing home residents or staff, government figures show.

Credit: (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
File photo: People wait in line for a COVID-19 vaccine in Paterson, New Jersey, on Jan. 21, 2021.

But some observers believe there is good news in these trends. At least five out of six Americans have some level of protection either from past vaccinations or from contracting COVID-19, according to the latest survey by the COVID States Project, an ongoing research project overseen by a team of scientists including Catherine Agnianova, a professor Rutgers University.

“We would all like to see 100% of our residents vaccinated and vaccinated, but I think our population is no different than the general population in that there are some people who are hesitant and weary of boosters.” —Andy Aronson, New Jersey Public Health Association

COVID-19 continues to spread in nursing homes with government officials now reporting 339 active outbreaks, infecting more than 8,000 residents and nearly 5,500 staff in recent weeks alone. That included at least 250 residents and 100 employees at the troubled Veterans Memorial Home in Menlo Park, where the state recently sent a team of infection control experts to help with operations and is seeking an outside entity to run the facility.

But Andy Aronson, president and CEO of the New Jersey Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes and welfare programs, said focusing only on new cases could obscure what he called more important data: mortality in nursing homes here and across the country has dropped from 20% of cases of COVID-19 to less than 3% today.

“The news is not entirely negative, it’s really positive in that regard,” Aronson said. “To the extent that people were really scared at first and thought (COVID-19) was really a death sentence (for nursing home residents). It’s really not the case today.”

Reluctance to push staff to vaccines

Aronson attributed the decline in deaths to the use of vaccines that first became available in December 2020, the advent of antiviral drugs and other treatments for COVID-19, strict testing and isolation protocols and other basic infection control methods. He said masks are part of that toolkit, though he doubts how much they have done to control the spread of the virus.

When the COVID-19 vaccines were first approved, the federal government partnered with several retail pharmacy chains to help vaccinate nursing home residents. That program has since ended, and Aronson said many of the facilities he represents have now transitioned their COVID-19 booster program into their annual flu shot clinics, routine events at nursing homes across the country.

“Of course we would all like to see 100% of our residents vaccinated and revaccinated, but I think our population is no different than the general population in that there are some people who are hesitant and weary of boosters,” he said. Aronson. said.

According to the National COVID-19 Project, only 28% of American adults have received a flu shot this year.

The problem is even bigger with the staff. “In the world of staff shortages that we’re in right now in the health care system, providers are very, very hesitant to really push this issue because they really just can’t afford to lose more staff,” he said.

Aronson worries that the vaccine hesitancy surrounding COVID-19 shots could have a greater impact even on older residents who have traditionally been vaccinated. Now, he’s hearing anecdotal reports of that concern “carrying over to the flu, where people are saying, ‘Well, I don’t want any vaccines,'” which he called a step backwards. “It worries us all a bit.”

In accordance with Project states COVID-19only 28% of American adults received a flu shot this year. “There is a strong correlation between receiving a bivalent booster and getting a flu shot. However, only 1 in 10 Americans received both vaccinations,” the group’s scientists write.

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