Accelerate pace of booster shots for the elderly as deaths increase

While the number of cases has begun to decrease in the ongoing sixth wave of novel coronavirus infections, there are many people who are becoming seriously ill and dying of COVID-19, particularly among the elderly. It is necessary to strengthen measures to protect their lives.

In this sixth wave, the number of cases has surged as the highly contagious omicron variant spreads. As more elderly people contract the variant, an increasing number of them are suffering from worsening chronic disease or becoming weak due to declining physical strength.

The daily number of deaths has reached a record high, recently surpassing 300. This is probably because the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines among the elderly, who received their first and second shots early on, has been waning over time.

It is important to expedite the pace of administering booster shots to the elderly to prevent them from becoming seriously ill. Only about 4 out of 10 people ages 65 and older have received a third dose.

Many cases of mass infections have been reported at elderly care facilities. However, it is expected that one-fourth of them will not be able to finish vaccinating their residents by the end of February.

It has been pointed out that some elderly people are hesitant to get the shot out of concern over side effects. Receiving a booster shot can be expected to prevent people from developing symptoms or becoming seriously ill even if they are infected. Members of the public who are considering getting a third shot are urged to do so as soon as possible to protect themselves.

It is important for the central government to reiterate to the public why getting shots is necessary. Local governments should facilitate vaccinations at elderly care facilities through such measures as dispatching medical teams.

The medical system must also be designed to cope with the increasing number of elderly patients. These patients tend to stay in the hospital for an extended period because they often find it difficult to recover their physical strength even after their COVID symptoms subside. Some hospitals cannot accept many patients because elderly people often need care from nurses throughout the time they are admitted.

The Tokyo metropolitan and Osaka prefectural governments have set up temporary medical facilities exclusively for the elderly by having medical workers dispatched from the central government. Both local governments should pay attention to securing nursing care workers so that they can deal with elderly patients who need care in the first place.

The government has called for prefectural governments to secure “logistic support hospitals,” at which patients can recuperate and undergo rehabilitation after receiving treatment for COVID-19. It is important to establish a system that will allow patients to be transferred smoothly to such facilities.

Medical institutions across the country will soon start prescriptions of a new oral COVID remedy developed by Pfizer Inc. The medicine has been confirmed to be highly effective in reducing the risk of hospitalization or death during clinical trials. However, it has an issue in that it cannot be prescribed to people who are taking drugs for arrhythmia or high blood pressure.

There are several medicines that have already been used for treating COVID symptoms. The government should establish a framework to provide sufficient supplies of such drugs so that patients can take those that best suit them.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 26, 2022.