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Doctors say younger people are making up a higher percentage of those hospitalized with COVID-19

Experts say with more seniors fully vaccinated, their rates of severe illness are dropping.

TAMPA, Fla — When COVID-19 first arrived in Florida, it quickly impacted the older generation the most. But now, experts say those demographics are shifting.

"The vaccines are making a big difference in who is getting hospitalized and the number of deaths that we're seeing," said Dr. Jason Salemi, an Associate Professor of Epidemiology with the USF College of Health. 

Salemi began tracking COVID hospitalization numbers on his website last year.

"If we now fast forward more recently, we see less than 30 percent of all hospitalizations are 70 years and older.  So to me, that's the power of the vaccine," said Salemi. "We can see it's starting to prevent illness that would require hospitalization."

He says the main reason for the shift--more seniors see COVID-19 as life-threatening and got vaccinated as soon as they could.

Now, a greater percentage of those left unprotected are working-aged people in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s who have concerns about the vaccine or just don't want it.

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"There is still a lot of hesitancy to get vaccinated, especially if you think your own personal risk of getting sick is low," says Salemi.

"The distribution has definitely shifted," says Dr. Jason Wilson from Tampa General Hospital. "We know that our older population is much more vaccinated now than are younger population in this area."

The finding correlates with what ER doctors are seeing in hospitals across Florida.

At Orlando Health, which also operates Bayfront in St. Pete, doctors report while overall cases are going down, they still have on average around 100 COVID patients in their hospitals across Florida on any given day. 

"The people that we see in the hospital are people who have not been vaccinated," said Dr. Antonio Crespo, an Infectious Disease specialist with Orlando Health.

He says, while the vaccine doesn't prevent every case of COVID-19, the only adults who end up in the ICU seem to be those who didn't get the shot.

"I think the average patient is about five days," Dr. Crespo says of his hospital’s COVID patients' stay. "If they end up in the ICU they may spend a few weeks in the hospital."

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