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'Young people can get very sick' | Doctors encourage continued caution, vaccinations, as hospitals see younger age groups sick with COVID-19

Cone Health Chief Physician Executive Dr. Bruce Swords said the average age of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 is shifting to younger groups than in the past.

GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. — The push to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19 continues, and now doctors are noticing the average age of people hospitalized for the virus is getting younger. 

"The virus takes advantage of unvaccinated groups of people," said Wake Forest Baptist Health Infectious Disease Expert Dr. Christopher Ohl. 

The trend is also being seen in Cone Health's hospitals. 

Cone Health's Chief Physician Executive Dr. Bruce Swords said this is likely due in part to a majority of the older population being vaccinated. 

"Vaccine distribution has been directed towards people that are older and toward people who have comorbidities. Because the vaccines are so effective, thankfully it's preventing some of those people who would otherwise be in our hospitals, they’re not in our hospitals anymore because they’ve been vaccinated, and at least for the time being, they're immune to COVID-19," said Swords. 

Guilford County's website shows 38 percent of the population age 25-49 testing positive for the virus. 

Swords said variants spreading is also a concern.

"These variants, especially the U.K. variant, B.1.1.7., does seem to be more transmissible, it likely is a bit more serious and it is impacting younger people," said Swords, "Currently we think this variant is a bit more aggressive. It impacts younger people and makes them sicker faster and so now is the time to get the vaccine. Thankfully the vaccines are effective against this U.K. variant and will protect people from getting seriously ill."

Swords said the B.1.1.7. variant is now the most common strain of the virus in Guilford County. 

"Everybody ought to get vaccinated that’s eligible and the truth is every adult is eligible now," said Swords, "The more people that get it [the vaccine], the sooner they get it, the faster this pandemic will be behind us." 

Ohl said there's work to do when it comes to getting younger people vaccinated, a group that generally tends to be more hesitant. 

"For a lot of reasons. Some of it is true vaccine hesitancy. They're anxious or have questions. Some of it is they don’t think they’re really all that vulnerable to COVID," said Dr. Ohl, "And some of it is plain old procrastination. So it’s a group of people we’re really going to have to work on."

Ohl encourages the younger population to get vaccinated, for a number of reasons. 

"One reason is to protect yourself. It's purely selfish and that’s OK. Two is to protect the loved ones around you, so let's say your mom is living with you, your dad. You're living with grandparents. You don’t want to expose them," said Ohl. 

Ohl said everyone should get vaccinated to protect the community as well as get back to some sort of normalcy. 

"The last reason that I'll add for young people, it makes going out and about and being social a little bit more palatable," said Ohl, "Let's say you’re dating or want to start dating. Your date might want you to be vaccinated. Or let's say you want to go to a concert."

"This is sort of your ticket to doing things you want to do," said Ohl. 

Swords encourages those who are hesitant to do reliable research from a reliable source, like the CDC, about the vaccines available if they have questions.