Senior adults not getting vaccinated, lead in COVID deaths in Arizona

KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Jan. 13, 2023 at 8:36 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - As the recent COVID-19 wave begins to recede, it’s becoming more apparent that the danger to seniors is not receding with it.

Nearly 200 deaths in Arizona last week from COVID and 83% of them were 65 and older.

In Pima County last week, 27% of the positive cases were 65 and over but hospitalizations made up 57% of that age group. 87% of the deaths.

But Arizona does not have an aggressive plan right now to get them vaccinated.

“If you look at vaccination rates among skilled nursing or nursing homes across the country you see that Arizona is dead last,” said Will Humble, the former director of the state health department. “50 out of 50 states.”

While much of the population sees COVID in the rear view mirror, the older population is still in the mix but little noticed.

“I think we need to remember this is somebody’s mother, somebody’s father, somebody’s grandmother, somebody’s grandfather this is a family member,” said Eugene Livar, of the Arizona Department of Health Services. “We don’t need to lose that human touch in this scenario and situation.”

The virus has become less virulent as it mutates, it spreads more rapidly but the disease itself is less deadly for most of the population but no less deadly for those sixty five years of age or older. Research shows the older population in 76% more protected with the bivalent booster.

That’s why the state has embarked on a program to increase the dismal vaccination rates among the elderly but is still looking for answers. “We have an open mind and an open door to all considerations at this point in time,” Livar said “We’re looking at every avenue or possibility that could increase vaccination among the age group of 65 and older.”

For the state of Arizona, only 32%, one in three seniors is boosted with the bivalent booster vaccine. For Pima County it’s about 50% but still lacking. That’s why the county is on a program to get as many senior homes to volunteer for free boosters because in those homes, the spread frequently comes from the outside.

“There’s two ways the virus gets into a nursing home or assisted living center, it’s either visitors or staff, mostly staff,” Humble said. “So if your staff isn’t vaccinated, that’s as big a problem as not having your residents vaccinated.”

Pima County offers free vaccines at a several nursing homes each month but is woefully short getting to the 428 elder facilities in the county but it may be getting an assist from mother nature.

“We are in a decline for both influenza, RSV and COVID,” according to Humble. “So the worst of this recent wave is behind us and I don’t think that’s going to change.”

But for the most vulnerable and compromised, we’re told, this is not time to let your guard down but to prepare for the next wave.