As COVID-19 precautions are lifted, who remains vulnerable?

Hispanic, Black, and Native Americans are less likely to have received their booster shots than white Americans, according to CDC data.

As more states and other institutions lift COVID-19 safety measures, the shift has sparked a conversation about who remains most vulnerable to COVID-19 during this period. I wanted to highlight a few of these vulnerable groups:

  • Seniors who remain unvaccinated or unboosted: “No other basic fact of life matters as dramatically as age for COVID,” writes Sarah Zhang in The Atlantic this week. Zhang’s story argues that the U.S. has not actually pushed to vaccinate elderly Americans with the same focus that other wealthy nations have. More than 10% of Americans over age 65 are not fully vaccinated and about one-third of those seniors who are fully vaccinated have not received their booster shots, according to CDC data. These seniors face higher COVID-19 risk than younger adults who are entirely unvaccinated, Zhang writes.
  • People of color who remain unvaccinated or unboosted: Zhang’s article inspired me to also look at recent vaccination trends by race and ethnicity. Black, Hispanic, and Native Americans have been at higher risk for COVID-19 throughout the pandemic, as their minority identities often coincide with lower socioeconomic status. According to CDC data, booster shot trends are similar to the vaccination trends we saw in early 2021: while 55% of eligible white Americans have received their booster shots, that number is below 50% for Black, Hispanic, and Native Americans. It’s lowest for Hispanic or Latino Americans: only 39% of those eligible have received a booster shot, as of February 19.
  • Immunocompromised people: If you haven’t yet read Ed Yong’s latest feature, about how America’s pandemic response has left immunocompromised people behind, drop everything and read it today. About 3% of U.S. adults take immunosuppressive drugs, while others live with diseases like AIDS that impact their immune systems. “In the past, immunocompromised people lived with their higher risk of infection, but COVID represents a new threat that, for many, has further jeopardized their ability to be part of the world,” Yong writes. Several other articles this week have also highlighted the challenges immunocompromised Americans face at this point in the pandemic.
  • Pregnant people: According to CDC data, about 68% of pregnant people ages 18 to 49 are fully vaccinated, as of February 12. That leaves almost one-third of pregnant Americans who are not fully vaccinated. Studies have found that pregnant people infected with the coronavirus are at higher risk for complications during their pregnancies and other severe outcomes. Plus, a new CDC study released this week found that a parent’s vaccination while pregnant greatly reduces an infant’s risk of being hospitalized for COVID-19, as antibodies produced by vaccination may be transferred from parent to child.
  • Children under age five: Of course, I have to mention the one group of Americans that is still not yet eligible for vaccination: children under age five. As parents of these kids have dealt with a confusing back-and-forth from Pfizer and the FDA on when vaccines might be available, many are facing high stress levels and remaining cautious even while schools and other institutions reduce safety measures.

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