Share on Pinterest
Young people are more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 right now. Hispanolistic / Getty Images
  • More and more young people are being hospitalized for COVID-19 as the Delta variant surges through the U.S.
  • Experts say that initially a person’s age and underlying conditions were the biggest factors for if a person would need to be hospitalized, but now it’s vaccine status.
  • Currently, people ages 18 to 49 make up the largest demographic of hospitalized people due to COVID-19, according to the CDC.

COVID-19 variants are now surging across the United States — especially the highly transmissible Delta variant, which accounts for the vast majority of cases.

Vaccinations for COVID-19 have also decreased with an average of around 750,000 vaccinations daily this week compared to over 3.9 million at the peak of vaccination. About 69 percent of U.S. adults currently have at least one vaccine dose. Demographically, people over age 65 have a much higher vaccination rate, with over 89 percent having at least one dose.

During the start of the pandemic, before there was a vaccine, those most likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 were older adults.

Now that the Delta variant is spreading widely in the United States, physicians are seeing a worrying trend of younger people ending up in the ICU.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, recent weeks have shown an increase in COVID-19-related hospitalizations for all age groups, with hospitalized adults ages 18–49 accounting for the largest increase.

The dramatic increase in cases seems to be related to the more infectious Delta variant.

“The Delta variant comprises well over 80 percent of what is circulating in the U.S.,” Dr. David Hirschwerk, infectious diseases specialist at Northwell Health in New York, told Healthline. “It is likely that Delta will continue to circulate in the fall, but naturally we all will be carefully scanning for the emergence of new variants.”

According to the recent CDC data, in the week ending July 24, people ages 18 to 49 are the largest demographic hospitalized for COVID-19.

This age group is currently affected far more than those ages 50–64 — and significantly more affected than the next oldest group (ages 65 and older), a trend that began in March of this year.

“A major reason for this is that vaccine uptake has been high among those over 65, and this was a group very vulnerable to severe illness,” explained Hirschwerk. “By proportion, fewer patients of more advanced age are currently being hospitalized with COVID.”

He added that the overall prognosis has improved since spring 2020, thanks to mainstays of treatment like supplemental oxygen, blood thinning drugs, and steroids.

“Depending on the severity of illness, some are candidates for other medications that influence the immune system,” he said.

According to Dr. John Raimo, chair of medicine at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills, in Queens, New York, the risk factor for hospitalization status is now vaccination status.

“What we are seeing, at least in New York, and as in the rest of the country, is that the vast majority of our hospitalized patients with COVID-19 are those who are not vaccinated,” he said.

Raimo emphasized that whether or not you’re vaccinated is the biggest independent risk factor “for developing COVID-19 and being hospitalized for COVID-19, and ultimately dying from COVID-19.”

“In my opinion, [that is] the best thing we can do to protect our friends, families, and loved ones,” he continued. “I think that prevention is better than any treatments we have. Do we have the solution to end this pandemic? It’s through vaccination.”

Dr. Carlos Malvestutto, an infectious disease physician with The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, echoed this, saying that the demographic change in hospitalizations is primarily due to who’s being vaccinated.

“I think when we look at our region, then vaccination among older individuals has been pretty good, on the order of close to 80 percent,” said Malvestutto. “Which is why we’re not seeing very old individuals being admitted — age is a risk factor for COVID-19, but we’re not seeing a lot of breakthrough cases where patients end up in the hospital.”

He confirmed that there are “breakthrough cases” where vaccinated people get COVID-19, but they’re not so sick that they end up in the hospital.

“Whereas before, anybody over the age of 65, if they had any other risk factors, they were very likely to end up in the hospital,” he said.

Malvestutto confirmed the risk factors are still the same, but when you look at hospitalized patients with obesity, or who are immune compromised, “it was pretty much all of them are unvaccinated.”

The most recent data from the CDC shows COVID-19-related hospitalizations are again increasing, with the age group most affected being ages 18 to 49.

Experts say high vaccination rates among older adults are responsible for the decline in this demographic, but the most common denominator for those hospitalized with severe COVID-19 is not being vaccinated.

They also emphasized that vaccination is the best way to protect ourselves and others from the consequences of severe COVID-19.