WASHINGTON — In a sign of growing concern among federal health officials about the spread of new coronavirus infections, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are now saying that all people age 50 or older should receive a second booster shot after at least four months have passed. their first booster dose.
Previously, the agency said those 50 and older had the option to take the additional injection, but only encouraged people over the age of 65 or with underlying medical conditions to get it. The new guideline, published in a statement on the CDC’s website Thursday, also applies to anyone 12 years and older with certain immune deficiencies.
The CDC said it was changing its advice because of a steady rise in infections in the past month, coupled with “a steep and substantial increase in hospitalizations for older Americans.” New confirmed cases again surpassed an average of 100,000 per day this week, according to a DailyExpertNews database — a number considered an undercount. And nationwide, hospital admissions of people with Covid-19 on Thursday averaged more than 23,800 per day, up 31 percent from two weeks ago.
Most Americans age 50 or older received their last dose of Covid vaccine more than six months ago. That has led to “many who are vulnerable without the protection they need to avoid serious illness, hospitalization and death,” the CDC said.
In another warning of growing Covid risks, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the agency’s director, said Friday: that more than 45 percent of Americans now live in areas where transmission rates are high enough to at least consider wearing a mask in indoor public areas.
That was a significant jump from data she cited at a White House briefing two days earlier. She said then that about a third of Americans lived in counties with medium to high levels of virus transmission. That in itself was a significant increase; only about one-fourth of the population fell into high-risk zones the week before, she said.
In a message posted on Twitter Friday, Dr. Walensky said those in high-risk areas — largely in the Northeast — should wear masks indoors in public. Those in medium-risk areas, including counties in nearly every state, should consider masks based on their assessment of their personal risks, she said.
Hospitalizations of patients with Covid are an important factor in the CDC’s assessment of a community’s risk. But other experts warned that hospitalization data could be misleading as patients may have been admitted for unrelated illnesses and only tested positive during routine Covid checkups.
“We currently have 11 people in our hospital with Covid,” said Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease physician at San Francisco General Hospital. “Three of them were hospitalized for Covid and the other eight have Covid in their nose and are there for other reasons.”
She said that in Massachusetts, a state with a high vaccination coverage, officials estimate that as many as 70 percent of hospital patients who test positive for the virus were admitted primarily for unrelated illnesses. However, coronavirus infections can also exacerbate underlying medical conditions, which many Americans have.
The death rate from Covid, while a lagging indicator, may be a more reliable gauge of the extent of the disease’s impact, as doctors must record the cause of death on the death certificate, said Dr. Gandhi and other experts.
Lately, the number of deaths has remained low. About 275 deaths are recorded every day on a seven-day average, said Dr. Walensky Thursday. The number of new deaths has actually fallen slightly in recent weeks. The total death toll in the US exceeded one million on Thursday, according to the Times database, the highest confirmed total of any country.
Those 50 or older have been eligible for a second booster since late March, but federal health officials have said too few people are taking advantage of it. For example, only a quarter of people over 65 who received one booster dose received a second, data from the CDC shows.
dr. Walensky also said this week that the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration were now discussing whether to extend eligibility to people under age 50.
This week, the agencies approved a booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds, extending eligibility for a first booster dose to a younger age group. Among other factors cited in its decision memo, the FDA cited “the continued easing” of preventive measures, including mask mandates, social distancing and isolation of infected individuals.
The agency also noted the risk of long-term Covid, which it said can “cause significant morbidity after an initially mild infection.”