COVID-19 may not be as front and center in our minds as it used to be, but health officials are urging older individuals to stay vigilant in the face of the mutating disease that's been a contributing factor in at least 700 deaths in New Jersey so far this year.

Research published in October suggests that individuals aged 65 and older have accounted for 90% of COVID-related deaths across the U.S. in 2023, and 63% of related hospitalizations.

"We have finished with the COVID public health emergency, but COVID is still a public health priority," Kathleen Cameron, senior director of the National Council on Aging's Center for Healthy Aging, told New Jersey 101.5.

According to the New Jersey Department of Health, the state has recorded 707 confirmed COVID-19 deaths year to date. Another couple dozen deaths are suspected to be connected to coronavirus.

About 80% of the confirmed New Jersey deaths involved people aged 65 and older.

Latest COVID vaccine

The FDA has approved and the CDC is recommending an updated vaccine against COVID-19.

Current guidance calls for one dose of the vaccination. There are options from Moderna, Novavax, and Pfizer-BioNTech — the CDC says none of the vaccines is preferred over another.

"This is an important vaccine for older adults to get as we enter into the cold and flu and COVID season," Cameron said.

Because protection takes some time to kick in, health professionals are urging residents to get their shot sooner rather than later.

One dose of the latest round of vaccination is recommended for anyone aged 5 years and older. Multiple vaccine doses, including one of the most recent version, is recommended for kids aged 6 months to 4 years.

You should be able to get the latest COVID shot for yourself or a family member at no charge.

In addition to coverage through insurance and other avenues, the National Council on Aging has provided funding this year to hundreds of organizations across the U.S., including some in New Jersey, to provide COVID and flu vaccines to older adults and people with disabilities.

Locations in New Jersey include the Hamilton Township Division of Health, Rutgers, and Princeton Senior Resource Center, among others.

In general, medical experts say you can make an appointment to receive both your flu shot and COVID vaccine in the same visit.

"If you've experienced a lot of side effects from vaccines in the past, you may want to check with your doctor," Cameron said. "If you haven't had any problems in the past, there's absolutely no reason why you can't get both at the same time."

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