Dr. Jan McBarron Explains Why the Elderly are More Susceptible to COVID-19

We all need to protect ourselves from contracting and spreading COVID-19, which is why health authorities recommend everyone stay home, regardless of age or health. However, it appears COVID-19 is a discriminatory disease, killing the elderly at greatly elevated rates compared to others including children.

This may seem obvious in some respects because elderly people are more likely to have preexisting health conditions and weakened immune systems. However, that is not always the case with viruses explains Dr. Jan McBarron, an award-winning bariatric medical physician, author and public speaker.

Jan McBarron notes that in contrast to COVID-19, the Spanish flu of 1918 was particularly deadly to adults between 20 and 40 years of age, a group that accounted for over half of that pandemic’s staggering death toll that numbered in the tens of millions. 

Not so with COVID-19, which kills at a progressively higher rate with each older age group. Those in their 20s have just a 0.06% chance of dying from the virus when adjusting for censoring, demography, and non-confirmed cases according to an Imperial College London study published in Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Children and teens have much lower mortality rates than that, while the rate doubles at the very least with each successive age group: a 0.15% rate for those in their 30s, 0.3% for those in their 40s, 1.25% for those in their 50s, and 3.99% for those in their 60s. The mortality rate balloons to 8.61% for those in their 70s and 13.4% for those 80 and above. 

That susceptibility to the virus among the elderly has led to some devastating outbreaks at nursing and retirement homes around the world, with governments now scrambling to enact measures to better protect those most at risk from COVID-19.

Fewer T Cells Spells Trouble for Virus Defense

Dr. Jan McBarron explains that there are several reasons why the elderly struggle to combat COVID-19 and other viruses. For starters, they produce far fewer T cells, which are one of our main fighters against invading viruses and pathogens. Children have a staggering 100-fold increase in the production of T cells than most adults in their 40s and 50s, and that gulf widens even further between children and seniors. 

Secondly, the communication between our T cells and other key immune cells including Natural Killer cells also declines with age. 

This leads to two issues. Fewer of a senior’s already-depleted T cells join the fight against the virus, further weakening their defense against it. Likewise, the Natural Killer cells initially sent to attack the virus, which create inflammatory molecules called cytokines, remain in overdrive longer than they should, leading to acute respiratory distress syndrome in the lungs, which is ultimately responsible for many of the COVID-19 deaths. 

While the numbers paint a clear picture that the general effect of chronological age plays a major role in COVID-19 risk, Dr. Jan McBarron stresses that pre-existing conditions and general health are equally important factors. Thus, it is vital to do everything you can to strengthen your immune system and improve your overall health to better protect yourself from COVID-19. It appears that the biggest predictor of who survives COVID -19 is the strength of the persons own immune system.