Public health officials warn that low vaccination rates against the latest versions of COVID-19 and influenza are exerting pressure on healthcare systems this winter, leading to increased hospitalizations and rising death rates among older adults in some regions.
In countries including the United States and several European nations, reports of growing hospitalizations linked to respiratory infections are emerging. Some regions have seen a resurgence of COVID-related cases, prompting governments to reinstate mask-wearing requirements in healthcare facilities.
Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s interim director of epidemic and pandemic preparedness, highlights the “incredibly low” vaccination rates against flu and COVID this season. Despite efforts to move past the pandemic and its restrictions, many countries are grappling with vaccine fatigue, struggling to communicate the ongoing risks posed by COVID and the benefits of vaccination.
In the United States, only 19.4% of adults have received this season’s COVID vaccine, despite recommendations for all adults to get an updated shot. CDC director Mandy Cohen emphasizes the severity of COVID compared to the flu and notes that not enough people have received the updated COVID vaccine.
Flu represents 5.2% of US emergency visits compared to 3% for COVID, yet the latter leads to more hospitalizations. Vaccination rates for flu and COVID in Europe are also below pandemic levels, with the new COVID shots recommended primarily for high-risk groups.
While vaccines remain effective at preventing serious illness, vaccine fatigue is impeding uptake. In Italy, for instance, only 8.6% of the eligible population has received their third COVID booster, and flu vaccination rates have also declined compared to the previous season. Global health officials emphasize the importance of continued vaccination efforts to prevent severe cases and ease the strain on healthcare systems.