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Senior living: What seniors should know about the new coronavirus subvariants

By Dr. Graham Tse,

Contributing writer

It’s summertime.

And that means more gatherings with friends and family, picnics at your local senior center, bingo night – maybe you even have a cruise planned. But as people have begun getting together again, more folks are contracting COVID-19. The main culprits are a pair of omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5, as well as others on the horizon (such as B.2.75).

These variants have become the dominant coronavirus strains and appear to be more contagious than their predecessors. Before these new strains, in earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began recommending that those 50 and older receive a second COVID-19 booster shot, which is now more critical than ever.

Graham Tse, M.D., COVID-19 Physician in Charge, MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center. (Photo courtesy of MemorialCare)

The recommendation from the CDC to get a second COVID-19 booster shot is essential for those 50 and older and those with medical conditions such as diabetes, lung disease, heart disease and other immunocompromised diseases. Adults who are 65 and older and have received at least two doses of the vaccine have shown a 94% reduced risk of being hospitalized because of COVID-19, according to the CDC.

In June, the Food and Drug Administration even voted in favor of introducing vaccines that target the original coronavirus plus omicron and its subvariants in preparation for the fall and winter months.

Although the FDA has approved these updated vaccines, it’s important to not delay in getting your second COVID-19 booster shot. The science has proven it lowers the risk of hospitalization, severe COVID-19 and death.

Receiving the second booster may not preclude you from getting the updated version of the vaccine in the fall.

Although the new variants appear to cause less severe symptoms than the earlier strains, it’s still important to remain vigilant — because they are so highly transmissible. The fact that seniors are at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19 also puts them at a higher risk of having a more difficult time recovering and of contracting long-term COVID-19.

There is a misconception that if you have had COVID-19, you have built up a natural immunity to the virus. You can still catch COVID-19 if you’ve had a prior infection. Increased protection comes with vaccination even after having a COVID-19 infection.

Long-term COVID-19 affects one in four seniors, according to the CDC.

Long-term COVID-19 refers to ongoing or new health problems occurring at least four weeks after a COVID-19 infection.

In a report, the CDC said it found adults who are 65 and older are at an even greater risk of developing long-term COVID-19 symptoms, such as brain fog, joint pain, headaches and more. The findings are worrisome because these conditions can hasten an older adults’ need for long-term care.

Remember you are essential. Continue to take the necessary precautions to keep yourself safe.

These precautions include:

  • Mask up: Wear your mask indoors or in crowded situations whenever possible. N-95 or KN95 multi-ply medical masks are best. Please avoid using cloth masks as they are less protective.
  • Stay distanced: We tend to let our guard down around friends or loved ones more than strangers when it comes to distancing, because we know them. But this is the time to be vigilant by masking indoors, socially distancing, holding outdoor gatherings or avoiding gatherings altogether.
  • Sanitize/wash hands often: Even if you are vaccinated, it’s important to be diligent with hand washing or using hand sanitizer. If you are at a grocery store and can’t wash them immediately, carry hand sanitizer with you and make sure you use it after touching the carts or any public surfaces. It’s also very important not to touch your face, eyes, nose or mouth until you can wash your hands or sanitize.

If you have questions about receiving a second COVID-19 booster shot, be sure to talk to your doctor.

There are many vaccination location options to obtain your booster – physician offices, urgent cares, local drugstores and throughout the city in which you live. Visit myturn.ca.gov to see which options are available near you.

To learn more about how to keep yourself safe from COVID-19, visit memorialcare.org/coronavirus.

Dr. Graham Tse serves as the COVID-19 physician in charge for both MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center and MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach. He helps drive best practices, treatment protocols and standards, as well as COVID-19 communications to medical staff.

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