Health official renews call for vaccination, masks

By The Active Age | February 1, 2023

Older adults should get the updated (bivalent) booster COVID-19 vaccine and mask up as necessary in light of data showing those residents are still most at risk of hospitalization and death, a health official said.

“It is still the case that the older the person, the higher the risk there is,” said Adrienne Byrne, director of the Sedgwick County Health Department. 

Hospitalization rates among people 60 and older peaked in early December, after Thanksgiving get-togethers, and statewide data showed a similar rise in Kansas after Christmas.

“This data shows that adults 70 years and older are twice as likely to be hospitalized with COVID than adults 60 to 69, who are in turn twice as likely as adults 50 to 59,” Byrne said. 

Byrne also cited a Washington Post report that nine out of 10 deaths from COVID are now among people 65 and older, the highest rate ever. During the first year of the pandemic, that group made up about 80 percent of deaths, a percentage that fell as that population became “highly vaccinated,” Byrne said.

But less than 40 percent of people 65 and older have received the updated vaccine, which became available in September.

The free vaccine is available at numerous pharmacies and clinics around the area. Uninsured adults can receive it at the health department’s main clinic at 2716 W. Central. Call (316) 660-7300 to make an appointment.

Masks also are  still recommended when older adults are around other people, especially larger groups, Byrne said, adding that the best protection is offered by K95 masks, which feature a particulate-filtering respirator. They are available at some local retailers and on Amazon. A surgical mask merely protects other people from us, not the other way around, she said.