As summer approaches, there are signs that the end of the COVID pandemic could be within sight. Many are hopeful that life will keep inching towards "normal" as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to update their guidelines, including recommending that fully vaccinated people can be outdoors without masks in most situations. But we're not totally in the clear just yet, as one health expert warns that COVID is still "spreading efficiently" among two groups of people. Read on to see who is currently most at risk of catching the virus, and for more on how effective your shots can be, This One Vaccine May Protect You Against All Variants, New Study Says.
COVID is still spreading in people under 40 and those who are unvaccinated.
During an interview with CNN on May 3, Ashish Jha, MD, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, lauded the overall decrease in national hospitalization and deaths reported from COVID. "We are starting to see the effects of all these vaccinations," he said.
But he went on to add that a new portion of the population was still at risk of catching the virus, even as national numbers dropped. "This pandemic now is really among young people, and it is a very dangerous time to be unvaccinated in the country because it is spreading pretty efficiently among young people and unvaccinated people," he warned.
Young people are now seeing more serious outcomes with COVID.
According to data from the CDC as of May 4, the vaccine rollout in the U.S. has been efficient in reaching the vulnerable population above 65, having administered at least one dose to 82.8 percent of seniors and fully vaccinating 69.7 percent. But as vaccination rates in the younger population continue to lag, the cohort of people aged 18 to 64 has become the largest group currently hospitalized with COVID for the first time in the pandemic with 36,000 reported admissions, Yahoo News reports.
"There is a very sharp increase, it appears, in younger adults… these are largely people who think that their age is protecting them from getting very sick from COVID-19, that is not happening," Cassie Sauer, CEO and president of the Washington State Hospital Association, said during a press conference on Apr. 26.
Other experts warn that even the much younger are still at a higher risk of severe COVID. "40 percent of our cases were under the age of 40, which is mind-boggling to me," Chris Baliga, MD, an infectious disease physician from the Virginia Mason Franciscan Health in Washington state, said of recent patients during a press conference on Apr. 26. "We never saw that earlier in the pandemic." And for more on how to stay safe, check out The Riskiest Things You're Doing After You're Vaccinated, CDC Says.
Variants could make getting back to normal a much longer, more difficult process.
According to Jha, the continued spread among these new groups could have longer-lasting effects limiting how quickly we get back to some parts of normal life. He pointed out that the recent sharp increase of cases and slowing of vaccination rates meant the "herd immunity" needed to eradicate the virus would likely not be achieved—which he called "a problem."
"If we just don't vaccinate, then obviously one of the things we've known is we get big outbreaks, you can get more variants," Jha told CNN. "It's going to be hard to do those large gatherings, indoor concerts, outdoor baseball games, this stuff will get much, much harder if we do not make more progress on vaccinations."
Experts emphasize the need for more people to get vaccinated to slow the spread of COVID.
While experts have begun saying that eradication of the virus may be too difficult to achieve in the coming months, some have also pointed out that focusing vaccines on the vulnerable portions of the population will make future outbreaks of COVID less likely to overwhelm the hospital system as it did during its first appearance. But others point out that there's really only one way to put the virus behind us once and for all.
"Our best way out of this pandemic is to get vaccinated," Katie Sharff, MD, an infectious disease expert at Kaiser Permanente, told ABC News. "We are all so exhausted, myself included, but like when you see young people in the hospital dying, you just have to kind of face it head-on and say this is real. We have got to get vaccinated." And for more on why experts are shifting their priorities, Dr. Fauci Says "Herd Immunity" Is No Longer the Goal With COVID—This Is.