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AARP Coronavirus Tele-Town Halls

Experts answer your questions related to COVID-19

 

Bill Walsh: Hello, I am AARP Vice President Bill Walsh, and I want to welcome you to this important discussion about the coronavirus. Before we begin, if you'd like to hear this telephone town hall in Spanish, press *0 on your telephone keypad now.

 

(Española)

 

Bill Walsh: AARP, a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization has been working to promote the health and well-being of older Americans for more than 60 years. In the face of a global coronavirus pandemic, AARP is providing information and resources to help older adults and those caring for them. Of course, we all yearn for a return to normal, including time with family and friends and getting back to travel and our communities. But for many, these activities continue to be muted by the risk of COVID infection. We're seeing a rise of infections in northern Europe, and as we enter fall and winter in this country, we have seen a surge of infections over the past two years. Today we'll hear from an impressive panel of experts about these issues and more. We'll also get an update from Capitol Hill on legislation affecting older Americans.

 

If you've participated in one of our tele-town halls in the past, you know this is similar to a radio talk show, and you have the opportunity to ask your question live. For those of you joining us on the phone, if you'd like to ask a question, press *3 on your telephone keypad to be connected with an AARP staff member who will note your name and question and place you in a queue to ask that question live. If you're joining on Facebook or YouTube, you can post your question in the comments.

 

Hello, if you're just joining on, Bill Walsh with AARP and I want to welcome you to this important discussion about the global coronavirus pandemic. We're talking with leading experts and taking your questions live. To ask your question, press *3, and if you're joining on Facebook or YouTube, drop your question into the comments section.

 

We have some outstanding guests joining us today, including the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CEO of StoryCorps and the chief medical advisor of the Bipartisan Policy Center. We’ll also be joined by my AARP colleague, Karen Chong, who will help facilitate your calls today. This event is being recorded, and you can access the recording at aarp.org/coronavirus 24 hours after we wrap up. Again, to ask your question, go ahead and press *3 at any time on your telephone keypad to be connected with an AARP staff member. Or if you're joining us on Facebook or YouTube, drop your question into the comments.

 

Now, I'd like to welcome our guests. Tom Frieden, M.D., is the CEO of the nonprofit organization Resolve to Save Lives. The organization works to prevent heart disease and prepare for epidemics. Dr. Frieden is the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Welcome to the program, doctor.

 

Tom Frieden: Thank you so much. It’s so nice to be with you.

 

Bill Walsh: All right, we're delighted to have you. And joining us a bit later will be Sandra Clark, the CEO of StoryCorps, and Dr. Anand Parekh, the chief medical advisor at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Just to remember, a reminder to our listeners to ask your question, press *3 on your telephone keypad or drop it into the comments section on Facebook or YouTube.

 

Let's go ahead and jump right in. Dr. Frieden, we’re seeing COVID surges in northern Europe, which in the past have proceeded rises in the U.S. as well. And, of course, the U.S. has seen devastating COVID surges in the fall and winter over the past two years. Currently, there are about 400 COVID deaths each day in the U.S., and the vast majority are among older adults. Another fall and winter surge could result in tens of thousands of older adults losing their lives. What is the outlook for the rest of the year, and what measures are most critical for older adults to avoid infection?

 

Tom Frieden: Thanks so much for the question. The first thing to be clear about is that no one can tell you with certainty what's going to happen with COVID a month or two from now. We have to have humility when it comes to this virus, and we just don't know for certain. What we do know is that there's things that you can do to product yourself and your family. First, foremost, most important, is to stay up to date with your vaccinations. Now we have what's called a bivalent booster — a booster against the old strain and the new strain of COVID. Everyone should be getting a booster, especially older people. If you're up to date with your vaccine, you're much less likely to end up sick, in the hospital or critically ill. The second thing you can do is, if you get sick, quickly get tested, and if you do have COVID, get on treatment. Paxlovid is very effective at reducing the risk of severe illness or death. And then for people who have weakened immune systems or are particularly concerned about COVID, you might want to protect yourself in certain situations where you might want to mask up with an N95 mask if you're particularly concerned. But far and away, the most important thing to do is to be up to date with your vaccinations. These vaccinations are remarkably effective at keeping people out of the hospital and alive. And far too few people have been getting them.

 

Bill Walsh: OK. Thanks so much for that. Now, last week the president said the pandemic is over, a sentiment that was affirmed by the U.S. Health Secretary Xavier Becerra. I just wonder if two things can be true. Can the pandemic be over, and we still have significant needs to mitigate COVID?

 

Tom Frieden: Well, first off, if you're suffering from long COVID, the pandemic isn't over for you. If you're one of those people in the hospital with COVID, it's not over for you. If you're in a country around the world that doesn't have enough access to vaccines or medications, it's certainly not over for you. And if a new variant comes in a month or a year that's deadly and avoids the protection of our vaccines, the pandemic will be very much here. But it's also the case that people have gone back to a new way of living with COVID. That COVID is not ruling and disrupting our lives in the U.S. the way it was before. It remains a global emergency. It remains a serious health threat. Just because something might not be in the pandemic phase anymore doesn't mean it's not still a serious problem. We have lots of health problems that aren't pandemics and are still dangerous and deadly.

 

Bill Walsh: Right, good point. I mean we don't want folks to let their guards down for sure. And as you allude to, you know, COVID precautions have been lifted, and even influenza vaccination rates are lower than pre-pandemic levels. Experts warn this flu season could be hard. How important is a flu vaccine, and should older people request the high dose flu vaccine?

 

Tom Frieden: Flu vaccination is very important. We don't know what this flu season will hold. The only thing you can predict about flu is that it is unpredictable. We do know that the single best thing you can do to protect yourself against flu is to get vaccinated. Now, the influenza vaccination, although better than anything else we have for flu, is not nearly as effective as we wish it were. In fact, the COVID vaccine is better for COVID by far than the flu vaccine is for flu. But still, the flu vaccine is important. And there is some evidence that the higher-dose vaccination rate, the higher dose vaccine is better for older people, so it is recommended for older people. But most importantly, get a flu vaccine, any flu vaccine, and if you're older or at risk, the higher dose may be better for you.

 

Bill Walsh: You know, a lot of our listeners may have heard a lot of advice about vaccines. You know, get a flu vaccine, as you just said. Get a COVID vaccine, get the omicron vaccine, get your shingles vaccines. Are there concerns with taking all of these vaccines at once?

 

Tom Frieden: The biggest concern is that people don't get them. We have far too many people who are in hospitals who are deathly ill because they weren't vaccinated against a preventable disease. As a doctor, I listen to what patients say, what their concerns are. But these vaccines are remarkably safe and remarkably effective. I get them, I make sure my 93-year-old mother gets them. I make sure my family gets them. If you just look at what doctors do, nearly all doctors get vaccinated, and that's because we see that the vaccines work, we see that they're safe, we see that they're effective, and we see the tragedies that happen when people don't get vaccinated.

 

Bill Walsh: OK. Well now it's time to address your questions about the coronavirus and vaccines with Dr. Tom Frieden. As a reminder, press *3 at any time on your telephone keypad to be connected with an AARP staff member to share your question live. And as a reminder, if you'd like to listen to this program in Spanish, press *0 on your telephone keypad now.

 

(Española)

 

Bill Walsh: Now I'd like to bring in my AARP colleague Karen Chong to help facilitate your calls today. Welcome, Karen.

 

Karen Chong: Hey, Bill, thanks so much for having me on this important conversation. The calls are stacking up, so I don't want to detract too much from the time. First up, we have Craig from Minnesota who has a question about the timing of those booster shots we've just been talking about.

 

Bill Walsh: All right. Craig, go ahead with your question.

 

Craig: Well, hi there, and thank you for taking my call. I kind of maybe have changed my question if I have time. Simply how long — I kind of know this answer — how long does the vaccine take to the new .. how long does the new booster take to take effect? I got it — tomorrow it'll be two weeks — and I think that's what it takes, right?

 

Bill Walsh: Dr. Frieden?

 

Tom Frieden: That’s correct. It takes about two weeks for the booster to be fully effective. That's an important point. And what we know is that the boosters are really effective at keeping people out of the hospital and from being severely ill. After a few months, they're much less effective at preventing you from getting infected. But of course, we'd love it if it prevented infection, but that would be, so far, not something that is long-lasting. What is longer-lasting is the protection against severe illness, and that, frankly, is the thing that's even more important.

 

Bill Walsh: Now, doctor, Craig had asked about booster shots. Is it the same story with the new omicron vaccine?

 

Tom Frieden: The two-dose vaccine, the so-called bivalent vaccine, can be used as a booster. Anyone can get it. Adults can get it. It's available now. It seems to give broader protection, and we hope longer protection. We don't know what the future will hold. We don't know if it's going to be an annual vaccine or something else. But what we do know is to protect yourself now, get a vaccine now. They're available widely. They're safe, they're effective, and they're effective against a broader range of the different strains of COVID that are out there.

 

Bill Walsh: OK. Thanks for that. Karen, let's go back to the lines. Who do we have up next?

 

Karen Chong: Sure. Next up we have Patricia from Naperville. She has a question about timing.

 

Bill Walsh: Hey, Patricia, go ahead with your question for the doctor.

 

Patricia: Hello. I had my fourth booster shot June 8th, so it will be about four months now since I've had it. I am immunocompromised in several different ways. I have nonimmune hemolytic anemia. I have third-stage liver disease without cancer. I'm diabetic, etc., etc. I'm wondering if I should wait maybe another month or so before I get the shots because I have had reactions to all of them that were not severe, but usually a lot of fatigue for a week or even two, very sore arm, and blah, blah, blah. Nausea, low appetite, so forth. Should people who tend to get reactions and who have issues wait a little longer, or should we have it right away?

 

Bill Walsh: Right. OK, Dr. Frieden.

 

Tom Frieden: A great question. You've got ... four months is a pretty good time to think about getting the shot that should last through this season. It's a broader vaccine, so it's going to give you broader coverage than you've had before. If you've had COVID itself, that actually boosts your reaction some. So if you have COVID, I don't recommend anyone get COVID for this or any other reason, but if you've had COVID, that will prolong your immunity from your last vaccine some. But generally, four months, at most six months, is the recommended time period to get a vaccine. Obviously, you should speak with your own doctor about this, but it wouldn't be too soon to get it now. And since, as the first caller mentioned, it takes about two weeks to kick in and we are heading into the fall, when we may have more cases. If you look at the cases rising in Europe now, we've generally followed what happened there by a few weeks or a month or two. It would be a good time to get a vaccine. Again, I would defer to your own doctor. But four months after your last dose, if you haven't had COVID in between, it’s a good time to get it. I certainly wouldn't wait more than six.

 

Bill Walsh: OK. Sounds good. Karen, let's go back to the lines. Who do we have up next?

 

Karen Chong: Sure, next we have little bit of a pivot. We have Bonnie from Alabama asking about a reaction of the flu shot.

 

Bill Walsh: Hey, Bonnie, go ahead and ask your question.

 

Bonnie: Yes, sir. Thank you so much. My flu vaccine, which I ...

 

Bill Walsh: She’s cut...

 

Bonnie: ... sore and I could not reach out for things very easily and I'm just wondering if the pharmacy...

 

Bill Walsh: Hmm, her line was breaking up. Maybe Karen, do you want to try another caller?

 

Karen Chong: Yeah. Sorry about.

 

Bill Walsh: Oh, that's all right.

 

Karen Chong: We can try, here’s another caller. How about Gail from California. She has a question about the vaccine for children.

 

Bill Walsh: OK, Gail, go ahead with your question. Welcome to our program. ... Hi, Gail, welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question.

 

Gail: Oh, sorry. Hi, is it safe and been tested enough for a child to get the new booster shot?

 

Bill Walsh: OK, Dr. Frieden.

 

Tom Frieden: Yeah, that's another great question, and it's certainly understandable that we worry about any vaccine, and particularly with our children. We want to make sure it's safe. Everything we've seen suggests that it will be both safe and effective. The only concern we've had about vaccine safety for younger people in the past has been with one of the vaccines for adolescent males and young adults, where in about 1 in a million, that's had some inflammation around their heart that has gone away actually with time. The risk of that from the vaccine, though, is lower than the risk of that from COVID itself. So certainly, talk to your doctor, talk to your pediatrician. But all of the data we've seen suggests that the vaccines are both safe and effective, including for children.

 

Bill Walsh: OK, very good. Thanks for that, doctor. Karen, let's take another call.

 

Karen Chong: Sure. I’m trying to think of those questions I just had. So Norma from Florida has a question about .. no, it just disappeared. Sorry about that. Norma from Florida has a question about switching the manufacturers of vaccines.

 

Bill Walsh: OK, Norma, welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question.

 

Norma: My question is, my shots were done by the company — it was the Moderna — and in the area I live in, they're not giving Moderna. They're only having Pfizer. Is it all right to switch, or is it better for me to ride out of my area, maybe 50 miles or so, to get the Moderna?

 

Bill Walsh: Mm-hmm. Doctor, that's a question we hear a lot about, you know, mixing and matching. Is that, is that OK? Is that healthy?

 

Tom Frieden: It's OK. In fact, we had hoped that mixing and matching might be even better because you were kind of covering different bases with your vaccine. The best available data now suggests that it's no better, it's no worse. So I would say get the vaccine that's readily available to you. Both Pfizer and Moderna have the bivalent boosters available. The availability of Pfizer is a little more right now. But if you got Moderna before, I wouldn't hesitate at all to get Pfizer now, or vice versa, or to continue with the same one. The vaccine that's going to work the best is the one that you get when you can.

 

Bill Walsh: All right. Good advice. Thanks so much. Karen, who do we have up next?

 

Karen Chong: Sure, next up we have Barbara from Washington, who has a question about safety.

 

Bill Walsh: Barbara, welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question. Hey, Barbara, go ahead with your question. Do we have Barbara? We should take another question. All right, Karen, why don't we take another caller?

 

Karen Chong: Sure, no problem. So we have a question from Charles from Minnesota, asking about attending a family gathering and about what he can do to protect himself. Let me get Charles for you.

 

Bill Walsh: Charles, welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question.

 

Charles: Yes, I need to attend a family reunion indoors in the middle of October. Very few, if any, of the people there will be masked. So my wife and I are wondering, other than getting our boosters, which we already have done, and wearing KN95 masks, what else can we do to protect ourselves from being infected at this family gathering?

 

Bill Walsh: That's a great question, Charles, and I'm sure it's a question on other people's minds as we head into the holiday season. Dr. Frieden, do you have any advice?

 

Tom Frieden: It is a great question, and the way I think about this for myself, my family, and patients I speak with is, think of the risks and the benefits of the different activities that you're going to do. If you're going to go to the grocery store, and you're worried about getting infected, there's probably not a lot of harm to wearing a mask or respirator at the grocery store. If, on the other hand, you're meeting with a grandchild, and you really want to interact, you probably don't want to wear a mask. So a lot of this has to do with your personal calculation of your risks and your benefits, your medical situation — are you immunosuppressed, are you medically frail? There are some things that we can do, obviously, if others aren't masked. We need to up our mask game. And I do recommend that you try out not just the KN95s, but even the N95. N95 is the most protective of the three kind. The KN95 is the next-most protective, and then a cloth or surgical mask is less protective than that. So when others aren't masked, it's important to up your mask game. The other thing is ventilation. Ventilation makes a really big difference. You mentioned indoors. Obviously, if you can do things out of doors, there are almost no infections out of doors. There's rare exceptions of that in very enclosed spaces or very packed crowds, but generally, there's so much air outdoors that the virus is diluted and less of a risk to you. You can open the windows, as long as it's not too hot or cold out, to increase ventilation in that way. And then, if you're at an event and you're trying to further reduce your risk, what some people do is, you may want to not eat or eat quickly or eat outside or separate from the others, and the other time have your mask on, preferably a well-fitting N95 mask.

 

Bill Walsh: OK. Thanks so much Dr. Frieden. And thanks for all your questions. We're going to take more of your questions shortly. And just as a reminder, if you'd like to ask a question press *3 on your telephone keypad. Doctor, we know you have to go, but we really appreciate your time and all the great information. And thanks, too, to the COVID Collaborative. It's a team of leading experts in health education and the economy that develops recommendations, leads vaccine education, and works with state and local leaders across America. They helped connect us today with Dr. Frieden. Doctor, thank you so much for being here today.

 

Tom Frieden: Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure and an honor, and thank you for the work that you do.

 

Bill Walsh: All right. Thanks so much. Let me now turn to our two additional expert guests. Two and a half years after the start of the pandemic, it's worth taking stock of how it's affected all of us. As a nation, we've lost an enormous amount — more than a million lives. These were our friends. They were our family. As individuals, we also feel the loss of time spent with loved ones over holidays, vacations that were canceled, more time in isolation than we ever could have expected. As we emerge from the pandemic, it’s helpful to think about how the adversity has affected our lives. And for that, we turn to Sandra Clark, who knows a thing or two about finding meaning in adversity. Sandra is the CEO of StoryCorps. Established in 2003, StoryCorps is a nonprofit organization that seeks to preserve and share humanities stories. Welcome to our program today, Sandy.

 

Sandra Clark: Oh, thank you so much, Bill. It's a pleasure to be here.

 

Bill Walsh: All right. We're delighted to have you. You'll be joined by Dr. Anand Parekh. Dr. Parekh is the chief medical advisor at the Bipartisan Policy Center, and he will be discussing the future impact of COVID, particularly as we enter flu season. Welcome back to our program, doctor.

 

Anand Parekh: Thanks so much, Bill. Great to be on with all of you today.

 

Bill Walsh: OK, and thanks to both our guests for … they're going to take your questions shortly. But Sandy, let me begin with a few questions for you. How do purpose and adversity shape our life stories?

 

Sandra Clark: Wow. They're most certainly intertwined. And you know, as hard as it is sometimes, you know, purpose often comes out of diversity. And I think we found that particularly in these last few years, you know — they've given us a reason to be every day. And, you know, not being in control of our lives, I think, has reminded us of who and what has mattered the most. And that sometimes can lead to better things. And so one of the, I think, beauties of StoryCorps stories, and these are stories, you know, powerful wisdom from everyday people, is that, you know, it reminds us, one, that we are not alone. And we also hear all the time when people hear StoryCorps stories, particularly on NPR, that they have to pull the car over to the side of the road because they fill with such emotion and reflection. And I think it's because the recording's often, you know, they inspire us, they give us perspective and hope, and they activate something in us that makes us think about how we can make our families, communities, and the nation, better. And, you know, there's lots and lots of stories — countless stories before the pandemic and most certainly now of how people have triumphs over adversity too.

 

Bill Walsh: Well, let's get some practical advice from you. How can someone use the circumstances of the past three years to create a new chapter in their life story? Can you give us some practical steps people can take?

 

Sandra Clark: Sure. You know, I myself made a career change joining StoryCorps in February. And sometimes, you know, these are entirely new chapters that we create for ourselves. And at other times it's just, you know, really thinking about how we live our old, old chapters better. And so I think sometimes we feel that there's a lot of pressure to, you know, make these, you know, huge changes. And really it starts with small steps. I think a good starting point is to really just do some self-reflection and to ask ourselves, you know, what have we been putting off that now maybe is the time to take a forward step. How do we connect to people we know and don't know, and how can we learn new things? And one of the beauty of StoryCorps conversations is, you know, it makes us take a quiet moment to pose some important questions to ourselves. But the most important thing is to actually take a step. And sometimes that's telling someone what you're thinking.

 

Bill Walsh: All right. That's a start of a, no doubt, a great conversation that maybe ends up on StoryCorps. Let's turn to you, Dr. Parekh. According to the CDC, approximately 1 in 5 people who had the virus will ultimately experience persistent symptoms of what's been called long COVID. Are we able to more precisely define and treat long COVID, and what should people do if they think they or a loved one is suffering from it?

 

Anand Parekh: You know, Bill, unfortunately, there's no precise definition of long COVID. What we know is that many people continue to have symptoms from COVID after several weeks. In most cases, the symptoms disappear in a matter of days, a week or two. But more and more Americans with COVID are experiencing symptoms many weeks out. So in general, if you're still experiencing symptoms four weeks or out, that's sort of a sign that you're having an inadequate recovery. And individuals are reporting general symptoms like tiredness or fatigue, post-exertional malaise, which essentially means the symptoms get worse after physical or mental effort. Respiratory symptoms like difficulty breathing and cough, neurological symptoms like headache and sleep problems. It's not really known yet what the cause of this is. Is it a reactivation of the virus? Is it the immune system being in hyperdrive, leading to inflammation? So we don't quite know the cause. Unfortunately, there is no test for this, no diagnostic criteria. I think it's important for doctors to rule out other conditions. But the treatment right now is really focused on symptom management, and everyone is presenting with different symptoms it seems. And so my best advice is, if indeed you have COVID, and your symptoms have not gone away after a month, it's a good time to visit your primary care physician, who can recommend a personal management plan for you based on the symptoms you're experiencing. Until we can really find out what the cause of this is and what are the treatments for it, symptom management is really most important right now.

 

Bill Walsh: OK, well, let me follow up on that. Some say that to combat long COVID, we need an initiative like Operation Warp Speed, which famously accelerated the development of COVID vaccines. What's your view on that?

 

Anand Parekh: Well we certainly need accelerated research efforts by the public sector and the private sector. I think that the good point here, Bill, is that there's a lot of activity in both sectors right now. The NIH, the National Institutes of Health, the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have both launched major initiatives, studies called the Recover Study, the Inspire Study, to identify what are those risk factors and causes of long COVID and what are potential treatments? So there's a lot of ongoing research through the federal government. The private sector, leading academic institutions have also come together to study long COVID. The last point I'll make, Bill, is all of these efforts, they're always looking for individual experiences. Whether you've had long COVID-19 symptoms, if you've had COVID-19 and recovered — all of that information is really critical to helping scientists study these symptoms. So, if anyone on the call is interested in volunteering for a study, I know that federal agencies, as well as the private sector, are always looking for individuals to participate in these important clinical studies.

 

Bill Walsh: OK, very good, Doctor. Thanks so much. Now we were just talking to Sandra Clark of StoryCorps about dealing with adversity in our lives. Let's share a brief StoryCorps excerpt about a family remembering Lola Tan. Lola was born in the Philippines and survived the Japanese occupation of World War II. She eventually came to the U.S. to help care for her grandchildren. She died in 2016. In this brief interview, Lola's grandson and her daughter, Kenneth and Olivia, discuss her imprint on their family.

 

(audio clip)

 

Kenneth: I think I learned from Lola that there’s a difference between your job and your work. Your job is something you leave behind at the end of a day, but your work is everything you leave behind at the end of a lifetime. Lola, she didn’t have the most glamorous jobs, but I think her work was all of us.

 

Olivia: It’s her love for us that I remember most. It was not so much of hugging or saying “I love you,” but it was all the things she did. You’re right, we are, we are her work.

 

(end of audio clip)

 

Bill Walsh: Hmm, Sandy, like this story, many of StoryCorps' best stories are intergenerational — parent and child, a grandparent and grandchild, with wisdom being handed down and sometimes it's being handed up. Why do you focus on these relationships and these stories? What's their importance?

 

Sandra Clark: Well, Bill, you know, the intergenerational stories are some of my favorites. And I picked Lola's story to share because there's just so much wisdom and thinking about our job versus our work and what we really want to leave behind. You know, one of the main reasons that people participate in StoryCorps interviews, is really, you know, wanting to make sure that wisdom is passed down from generation to generation. And these, by the way, can be archived, are archived with the Library of Congress if you choose. So, you know, generations well down the road can hear your voice and hear your wisdom. You know, we learned some things from parents and grandparents, but also, you know, there's something about questions and wonderment from kids that bring out so much in us too. And Kenneth Tan actually came back after being cared for by Lola, came back to take care of her when she needed her family the most. And so that kind of, you know, circular caring. I think, is also something so important. For your audience who may not know how StoryCorps works, I just want to share a little bit of how it goes. You know, StoryCorps invites people to record an interview with someone they care about, and it could be a grandparent, a friend, a teacher, just somebody who had an impact in your life, and someone you want to say, you know, you matter to me. You and your partner will record — and these are usually 40-minute interviews and conversations that you're talking to each other. And you can do this through the StoryCorps app, or an in-person onsite recording. So we have an Airstream bus that actually travels to 10 cities across the country every year. We’re right now in Utah and heading to Las Vegas next. And these conversations, you get a copy of the recording, and the copy goes to the Library of Congress, if you choose. So it'll be preserved well into the future for future generations. And then we share out many of these stories on our website, on social media platforms. You can certainly hear them on NPR once a week. We have a podcast, and we also do these wonderful animations out of some of our stories.

 

Bill Walsh: Well, that's great. I look forward to those programs every Friday on NPR. They really are a highlight. Well, thank you so much for that, Sandy. Now it's time to address more of your questions. Please press *3 at any time on your telephone keypad to be connected with AARP staff and get in the queue to ask your question live. Karen, who do we have next on the line?

 

Karen Chong: Hey, Bill, we have Julia from Utah talking about the surge. Hold on one second.

 

Bill Walsh: Hey, Julia. Welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question.

 

Julia: Yes. I was just wondering how prepared are we if we get a big new surge, in light of the health care problems with a lot of health care people leaving due to being overwhelmed or due to the vaccine mandate that had been imposed.

 

Bill Walsh: Hmm. That's a great question, Julia. Dr. Parekh, can you take that one on.

 

Anand Parekh: Sure, I can do so. And certainly, we’ve seen staff shortages in hospitals across the country, particularly related to nurses. You know the best thing that we can do for the health care sector is to prevent hospitalizations from COVID in the first place. And so when I think about the surge — are we prepared? — that’s really a question back to all of us, whether we all will commit to using the tools that have been provided to us, number one, as Dr. Frieden said, staying up to date with vaccinations. Number two, making sure that you use tests if you have symptoms. Number three, ensuring that you have a quick access to treatment if you’re eligible. If you do turn positive, knowing when to appropriately wear a high-quality mask, what types of settings. These tools that we use are our best chance to really not only reduce deaths from COVID-19, reduce surges, but also to protect our health care system so they don’t see the surges that I don’t think any of us want to see.

 

Bill Walsh: OK, very good. And doctor, you mentioned just a moment ago as we were talking about long COVID symptoms, you had urged people to take part in clinical trials. I just wanted to give our listeners a website where they can find out more about that. That website is at the National Institutes of Health, and it is RecoverCOVID.org. RecoverCOVID.org. Go there to find out more about clinical trials related to long COVID. Karen, who do we have up next?

 

Karen Chong: Hey there, so we have Alex from New York, and he's got a question about — so important nowadays — about mental health.

 

Bill Walsh: Hey Alex, welcome to the program. Go ahead with your question.

 

Alex: Yeah. Thank you for taking my question. One of the things that I've seen over the past two years is, with a lot of people I know, just seeing the impact on people's mental health, and how in some people, it really deteriorated. And, you know, the well-meaning advice to people to stay indoors, to older people, may not have been, may not have been good in the long run because some people just stayed in, became more and more isolated and stopped taking care of themselves.

 

Bill Walsh: Yeah.

 

Alex: And so I've, and there are things you can do, there are things that help people in that situation, you know, humor, talking, talking to other people .. for some, faith in a loving God. And but I've, yeah, I just would like you, if you could address that.

 

Bill Walsh: Yeah, yeah, Alex. That's a great question. Thanks so much for asking it. I wonder, maybe both our experts can weigh in on this. Sandy, I wonder if this has come up in StoryCorps stories you've heard over the last two years — the mental health impacts of COVID and the isolation that Alex was talking about.

 

Sandra Clark: Yeah, Bill, I mean, absolutely. You know, one of the worst aspects of the pandemic was, is isolation for, for many. And not just for the elderly, but also for young people too. And when the pandemic started, you know, the StoryCorps interviews, which we used to record face-to-face, we knew we couldn't do that anymore. And knowing how essential, you know, human connection is and how effective these StoryCorps conversations are in helping people feel more connected, we created a StoryCorps Connect, which is a remote way for people to connect with each other and to share their stories so they don't feel so alone. So, you know, you can look at the StoryCorps.org website and find out more information about StoryCorps Connect, but also our app allows people to connect with each other and interview. And there's something about the, you know, the quietude of those conversations. There's so many things we don't share with the people who are closest to us sometimes. And so, you know, being able to connect through an app and really have an intentional conversation can help mitigate loneliness and also give hope.

 

Bill Walsh: Yeah. And doctor, I wonder if you could also address Alex's question. In our own survey data, we've seen increases in depression and sleeplessness, anxiety among older adults, largely during the COVID pandemic period and tied to isolation. Do you have any clinical advice on that front?

 

Anand Parekh: Yeah, you know, I agree with Sandy — social isolation and loneliness and depression, particularly in older adults, was a challenge even before the pandemic. But the pandemic simply exacerbated that. So I think working with your doctor, or working with community-based organizations, you know finding different ways to connect virtually as well as otherwise to peers — all of those things help us with conditions such as anxiety as well as depression. So I think the messaging also is very important with respect to the pandemic, and that’s why I do say now … we don’t have to think about the pandemic all the time anymore. Let’s just make sure that we don’t forget about these tools. So I think all of those messages are important. I will also add one public service announcement for those individuals who are in crisis, who are having a behavioral health crisis. There’s now a new national crisis hotline number, 988. This number is now live all across the country, and individuals who are experiencing a mental health crisis can call that number, and they’ll be routed to counselors as well as triage, depending upon their level of need. So I think that’s important that all older adults, all Americans know that that 988 number is now live.

 

Bill Walsh: Yep. Thanks so much for mentioning that. What a great resource. We're going to take more listener questions in just a moment, but before we do, let's get an update from Capitol Hill. In addition to sharing information and resources, AARP advocates for issues that affect you the most. To get a quick update on how AARP is fighting for you, I want to bring in my AARP colleague, Government Affairs Vice President Megan O'Reilly. Welcome to the program, Megan.

 

Megan O'Reilly: Happy to be here, Bill.

 

Bill Walsh: All right. I want to ask about a few important issues today, but let's start with some good news. Of course, last month, historic prescription drug reforms passed the House and Senate and were signed into law.

 

Megan O'Reilly: Yes, prescription drug reform is a huge victory for older Americans. After decades of calling on Congress to make prescription drugs more affordable, AARP has won the fight for Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices and help seniors save money on their medications. The new law will also put an annual $2,000 limit on how much seniors on Medicare Part D will have to pay out of pocket for their medications. And it penalizes drugmakers that increase prices faster than the rate of inflation. Finally, the new law cap costs of Medicare-covered insulin at $35 a month, and it eliminates out-of-pocket costs for most vaccines under Medicare, such as the shingles vaccine. These are huge wins.

 

Bill Walsh: Well, that's just wonderful news, Megan. And, of course, that important $2,000 limit on out-of-pocket spending kicks off in 2025. You know, we're also entering election season right now. What is AARP’s focus heading into the November election?

 

Megan O'Reilly: First, I want to remind folks that AARP is strictly nonpartisan and always has been. We don't endorse or give money to candidates. That said, we're working hard to make sure that candidates pay attention to older Americans and address the issues that are most important to them. Voters aged 50 and above will likely make up the majority of the electorate in November, as they have in all recent elections. We're also making sure our members and the public know where and when to vote. A lot of states have had changes to their voting rules since the last election, so we're doing a lot of education and outreach to explain what's different and what stays the same. In addition to election pages on aarp.org, this month's issue of the AARP Bulletin also details how you can vote in your state.

 

Bill Walsh: Yeah, check out that AARP Bulletin. It's an excellent issue. Now, AARP recently conducted research that focuses specifically on women ages 50 and above. The research was called “She's the Difference: The Power of Older Women Voters.” And the poll showed some important findings, didn’t it?

 

Megan O'Reilly: It did. You know, women over the age of 50 are a critical voting demographic. They make up nearly 27 percent of registered voters, and more than 8 in 10 turned out to vote in 2020. This group also makes up the biggest block of swing voters. Older women may not always feel seen or appreciated, but they are here, they are strong, and they will make their voices heard. Elected leaders and political candidates would be wise to listen and understand the needs and concerns of women aged 50 and above, and indeed all older Americans.

 

Bill Walsh: OK, thanks for that update, Megan. Now, before I let you go, I want to ask about the current state of COVID in America's nursing homes. For those living and working in skilled nursing facilities, this pandemic is far from over.

 

Megan O'Reilly: Sadly, that's correct. AARP's Nursing Home COVID Dashboard shows that COVID still has a deadly grip on the nation's nursing homes with the number of deaths and cases among residents and staff nationwide rising for the fourth consecutive month. For the four weeks ending on Aug. 21, there were more than a 100,000 new COVID cases identified in nursing homes, with about 1 out of every 22 residents testing positive. In addition, the rate of nursing home resident deaths nationwide increased by about 30 percent,  compared to the previous numbers. Tragically, more than 1,000 nursing home residents and more than 100 staff died from COVID during this four-week period.

 

Bill Walsh: What should people do if they have a loved one in a nursing home?

 

Megan O'Reilly: Our numbers show that only a little more than half of nursing home residents nationwide are up to date with their COVID vaccinations and considered fully protected. With cold weather and flu season upon us, we must do everything we can to protect our loved ones. A big part of that is prioritizing vaccines and boosters. Don't take for granted that your loved one has received theirs. Follow up with their care providers and make a plan.

 

Bill Walsh: All right. Great advice. Thanks for being here today, Megan. And if our listeners want to stay on top of AARP’s advocacy efforts, how can they find out the latest?

 

Megan O'Reilly: We encourage everyone to go online and search “AARP Fighting for You.” That'll lead you to the daily roundup of all the latest advocacy news on our work with Congress and across the country. You can also search “AARP Fierce Defender” and find a host of updates and money-saving resources.

 

Bill Walsh: OK, “AARP Fierce Defender.” Thanks very much for being with us today, Megan. And we are going to take some more listener calls in just a moment. But first I had a question for our experts. Sandy, I was just talking to Megan about caring for our loved ones. As we emerge from the pandemic, what's the one question we should be asking our loved ones.

 

Sandra Clark: Oh wow, that's a great question, Bill. There's so many questions, but I think, you know, the gift of listening is very powerful. And what would you share with future generations in our family about this time, and what have you learned? I think there's so much that, you know, can be gained from hearing from someone in their own voice about how they have processed this time, and sort of the lessons that they want to share with their families going forward.

 

Bill Walsh: OK, thanks. Great advice. Now it's time to take more of your questions for Sandra Clark, the CEO of StoryCorps, and Dr. Anand Parekh. Please press *3 at any time on your telephone keypad to be connected with an AARP staff member and get in the queue to ask your question live. Karen, who do we have on the line now?

 

Karen Chong: Hey, Bill, so we actually have an online question, I think for Sandy from StoryCorps. “How can we encourage relatives to share family stories if they're reluctant?”

 

Bill Walsh: Sandy, how about that one?

 

Sandy Clark: Thank you. I love that question. You know, I can't say enough about how we should act now, as we've all learned that tomorrow's not promised. And so, you know, we should really approach it with a finite period of time to capture these stories — as someone who didn't get my own mother and father's voices captured. I think just to say you're important to me. And it means everything for us and those coming after us to hear your story in your voice; it's the most priceless gift you can give us. And, you know, to make this easier, you can go to StoryCorps.org. And really, we even have a set of questions if you need some prompts to get the conversation started. And then they can also look at the many, many stories that, I mean — about 600,000 people have been recorded since we began StoryCorps. And so they can look and see this wonderful, beautiful collection of people who have shared their stories as well.

 

Bill Walsh: OK, thanks so much. We'll have to check that out. StoryCorps.org. Karen, who is next on the line?

 

Karen Chong: So we have Jean from Illinois, who wants to talk about vaccines versus immunity from having had COVID. Here you go.

 

Bill Walsh: All right, well, welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question.

 

Jean: Yes. I would just like to hear a doctor address the comparison between getting COVID, whether it be a mild case or hospitalization and surviving. So your body has already developed its own immunity toward it, and I'd like to compare the efficacy of that as opposed to the vaccines. I'm not, I mean the boosters, excuse me, I'm not anti-vaccine. I've had, you know that. And most people where we live have, if not all. But then my question is basically more geared toward the boosters.

 

Bill Walsh: Mm. Thanks so much for that. Yeah, go ahead. Thanks so much for that question. I think a lot of people do wonder about so-called natural immunity versus the effectiveness of the boosters. And doctor, I wonder if you could address that.

 

Anand Parekh: Sure, I’m happy to do so. So both vaccine-induced immunity, as well as natural immunity, can be and are protective against COVID-19. Most studies demonstrate that vaccine-induced immunity is more robust than natural immunity. It lasts longer. It’s more effective. But the single-most important reason why, if you had to choose — you would always choose vaccine-induced immunity as opposed to natural immunity — is no one wants to take the risk of going through COVID-19. We just talked about long COVID as well. Studies show that if you’re vaccinated, the chance for long COVID are less. So we don’t want to take the risk for any of us to experience COVID, and that’s another reason why vaccine-induced immunity is so important. At this point, in terms of boosters, and the recommendation is that this new bivalent booster — which will protect us against not only the original strain but the newer omicron strain — is recommended in adults, particularly older adults, as long as it’s been two months since you’ve received that last booster. And I think that is really the scientific recommendation and consensus — that to protect ourselves as we come to this wintertime, that it’s best to get that vaccine. In the short term, it’ll also help prevent infection. But over the long term, it’s the most durable way to protect us from severe illness and that’s what, I think, we all want to avoid.

 

Bill Walsh: All right, doctor. Thanks so much for that. Karen, let's take another question.

 

Karen Chong: (inaudible) ... who has a question about just how many vaccines and boosters are right. Here we go.

 

Bill Walsh: Hi, welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question.

 

Female caller: Hello, can you hear me?

 

Bill Walsh: I sure can go ahead with your question.

 

Karen Chong: OK. If you've had the two vaccines, Moderna, and you've also had the two boosters. And the last booster was the 1st of June, do you still need to take the new booster that's out now, the omicron vaccine? And if so, how long after your last booster? And also, if you've had cortisone injections or some steroid injections for arthritis pain, do you need to wait a certain period of time before you can take the omicron vaccine? And this is also in regard to a 15-year-old child as well, who has Crohn's and is taking Remicade infusions for Crohn's.

 

Bill Walsh: Well, let's, yeah, thanks so much for that question, those two questions. Let’s go ahead and ask the doctor about that. Doctor?

 

Anand Parekh: Well, and thanks for both of those questions. And I think, in particular, to the second question related to steroids. And I believe this is for a 15-year-old child. It’s best to consult with the child's physician as to the timing of the corticosteroid shot as well as the bivalent booster. But the recommendation now is, and for a 15-year-old, the Pfizer — Moderna is 18 and older — so this would be the Pfizer vaccine. But if an individual is out more than two months since the last vaccine — so in this case, I think it's more than two months; it would have been about four months — then yes, they are eligible. And, in this particular case, given the child is immunosuppressed or has a chronic condition such as Crohn's, I think it would be advisable to get this booster over the next few weeks, particularly before we get into the winter season.

 

Bill Walsh: OK. Thanks so much for that, doctor. Karen, let's take another call.

 

Karen Chong: Sure, we have Marcia from California, and she's got questions about reactions to the vaccine.

 

Bill Walsh: Hi, welcome to the program. Go ahead with your question.

 

Marcia: OK, I'm 98 years old. My son is 74 years old. He got the COVID about three months ago. I never got it from him, and I still have no symptoms. I don't have it. But he has residual effects that's ongoing now, mostly in regard to his breathing. He says he can't sleep at night, and when he does get to sleep, all of a sudden, his nose clogs up and then he wakes up and he goes into a panic attack. He's afraid he's going to die, and he can't get his breath. And then he can't go back to sleep. And it's just a vicious circle. And is there any suggestions for him? He takes the inhaler and everything else he knows to do, but nothing works.

 

Bill Walsh: Yeah, well, let's ask the doctor. Doctor, it sounds like what she's describing may be the symptoms of long COVID.

 

Anand Parekh: Yes, it could very well be. And first I want to, you know, thank the caller and am so glad that she is in good health. And in terms of her son, and I'm sure the son's physician is looking into this — ruling out other conditions that could masquerade for long COVID. But he certainly could have exactly what we were describing on the call, or earlier, long COVID — which is not very well precisely defined yet. And really the treatment for these symptoms are really anything we can do to manage them. So for example, if it is related to difficulty breathing, there's something called pulmonary rehabilitation that helps with breathing. If it's related to sleep, there are perhaps things that can be done to alleviate the sleep symptoms. But it's really working through with the physician to create a personal management plan to try to get at those most debilitating symptoms. Until we can, until the research can better ascertain exactly what is going on and why it's going on so we can prevent it in the first place and have better treatments. So right now it's really all about managing the key symptoms, and that's what individuals should be talking to their personal physician about.

 

Bill Walsh: Right, and our caller said she was 98. I sure hope that she's up to date on her vaccines and boosters to protect herself from these ongoing symptoms her son seems to be experiencing. All right, well this has been an informative discussion. I want to thank all of our guests for their information and insights, and thank you our AARP members, volunteers, and listeners for participating in the call today. AARP, a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization, has been working to promote the health and well-being of older Americans for more than 60 years. In the face of this crisis, we're providing information and resources to help older adults and those caring for them protect themselves from the virus, prevent its spread to others while taking care of themselves. All the resources referenced today, including a recording of the Q&A event, can be found at aarp.org/coronavirus beginning tomorrow, Sept. 30. Go there if your question was not addressed, and you'll find the latest updates as well as information created specifically for older adults and family caregivers. We hope you learned something that can help keep you and your loved ones healthy. Please join us again on Nov. 10 for another tele-town hall on COVID-19. Thank you and have a good day. This concludes our call.

[00:00:00] Bill Walsh: Hello, I am AARP Vice President Bill Walsh, and I want to welcome you to this important discussion about the coronavirus. Before we begin, if you'd like to hear this telephone town hall in Spanish, press *0 on your telephone keypad now.

[00:00:14] [Española]

[00:00:20] AARP, a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization has been working to promote the health and well-being of older Americans for more than 60 years. In the face of a global coronavirus pandemic, AARP is providing information and resources to help older adults and those caring for them. Of course, we all yearn for a return to normal, including time with family and friends and getting back to travel and our communities. But for many, these activities continue to be muted by the risk of COVID infection. We're seeing a rise of infections in northern Europe, and as we enter fall and winter in this country, we have seen a surge of infections over the past two years. Today we'll hear from an impressive panel of experts about these issues and more. We'll also get an update from Capitol Hill on legislation affecting older Americans.

[00:01:14] If you've participated in one of our tele-town halls in the past, you know this is similar to a radio talk show, and you have the opportunity to ask your question live. For those of you joining us on the phone, if you'd like to ask a question, press *3 on your telephone keypad to be connected with an AARP staff member who will note your name and question and place you in a queue to ask that question live. If you're joining on Facebook or YouTube, you can post your question in the comments.

[00:01:44] Hello, if you're just joining on, Bill Walsh with AARP and I want to welcome you to this important discussion about the global coronavirus pandemic. We're talking with leading experts and taking your questions live. To ask your question, press *3, and if you're joining on Facebook or YouTube, drop your question into the comments section.

[00:02:05] We have some outstanding guests joining us today, including the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CEO of StoryCorps and the chief medical advisor of the Bipartisan Policy Center. We’ll also be joined by my AARP colleague, Karen Chong, who will help facilitate your calls today. This event is being recorded, and you can access the recording at aarp.org/coronavirus 24 hours after we wrap up. Again, to ask your question, go ahead and press *3 at any time on your telephone keypad to be connected with an AARP staff member. Or if you're joining us on Facebook or YouTube, drop your question into the comments.

[00:02:51] Now, I'd like to welcome our guests. Tom Frieden, M.D., is the CEO of the nonprofit organization Resolve to Save Lives. The organization works to prevent heart disease and prepare for epidemics. Dr. Frieden is the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Welcome to the program, doctor.

[00:03:12] Tom Frieden: Thank you so much. It’s so nice to be with you.

[00:03:14] Bill Walsh: All right, we're delighted to have you. And joining us a bit later will be Sandra Clark, the CEO of StoryCorps, and Dr. Anand Parekh, the chief medical advisor at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Just to remember, a reminder to our listeners to ask your question, press *3 on your telephone keypad or drop it into the comments section on Facebook or YouTube.

[00:03:38] Let's go ahead and jump right in. Dr. Frieden, we’re seeing COVID surges in northern Europe, which in the past have proceeded rises in the U.S. as well. And, of course, the U.S. has seen devastating COVID surges in the fall and winter over the past two years. Currently, there are about 400 COVID deaths each day in the U.S., and the vast majority are among older adults. Another fall and winter surge could result in tens of thousands of older adults losing their lives. What is the outlook for the rest of the year, and what measures are most critical for older adults to avoid infection?

[00:04:19] Tom Frieden: Thanks so much for the question. The first thing to be clear about is that no one can tell you with certainty what's going to happen with COVID a month or two from now. We have to have humility when it comes to this virus, and we just don't know for certain. What we do know is that there's things that you can do to product yourself and your family. First, foremost, most important, is to stay up to date with your vaccinations. Now we have what's called a bivalent booster — a booster against the old strain and the new strain of COVID. Everyone should be getting a booster, especially older people. If you're up to date with your vaccine, you're much less likely to end up sick, in the hospital or critically ill. The second thing you can do is, if you get sick, quickly get tested, and if you do have COVID, get on treatment. Paxlovid is very effective at reducing the risk of severe illness or death. And then for people who have weakened immune systems or are particularly concerned about COVID, you might want to protect yourself in certain situations where you might want to mask up with an N95 mask if you're particularly concerned. But far and away, the most important thing to do is to be up to date with your vaccinations. These vaccinations are remarkably effective at keeping people out of the hospital and alive. And far too few people have been getting them.

[00:05:58] Bill Walsh: OK. Thanks so much for that. Now, last week the president said the pandemic is over, a sentiment that was affirmed by the U.S. Health Secretary Xavier Becerra. I just wonder if two things can be true. Can the pandemic be over, and we still have significant needs to mitigate COVID?

[00:06:17] Tom Frieden: Well, first off, if you're suffering from long COVID, the pandemic isn't over for you. If you're one of those people in the hospital with COVID, it's not over for you. If you're in a country around the world that doesn't have enough access to vaccines or medications, it's certainly not over for you. And if a new variant comes in a month or a year that's deadly and avoids the protection of our vaccines, the pandemic will be very much here. But it's also the case that people have gone back to a new way of living with COVID. That COVID is not ruling and disrupting our lives in the U.S. the way it was before. It remains a global emergency. It remains a serious health threat. Just because something might not be in the pandemic phase anymore doesn't mean it's not still a serious problem. We have lots of health problems that aren't pandemics and are still dangerous and deadly.

[00:07:20] Bill Walsh: Right, good point. I mean we don't want folks to let their guards down for sure. And as you allude to, you know, COVID precautions have been lifted, and even influenza vaccination rates are lower than pre-pandemic levels. Experts warn this flu season could be hard. How important is a flu vaccine, and should older people request the high dose flu vaccine?

[00:07:44] Tom Frieden: Flu vaccination is very important. We don't know what this flu season will hold. The only thing you can predict about flu is that it is unpredictable. We do know that the single best thing you can do to protect yourself against flu is to get vaccinated. Now, the influenza vaccination, although better than anything else we have for flu, is not nearly as effective as we wish it were. In fact, the COVID vaccine is better for COVID by far than the flu vaccine is for flu. But still, the flu vaccine is important. And there is some evidence that the higher-dose vaccination rate, the higher dose vaccine is better for older people, so it is recommended for older people. But most importantly, get a flu vaccine, any flu vaccine, and if you're older or at risk, the higher dose may be better for you.

[00:08:35] Bill Walsh: You know, a lot of our listeners may have heard a lot of advice about vaccines. You know, get a flu vaccine, as you just said. Get a COVID vaccine, get the omicron vaccine, get your shingles vaccines. Are there concerns with taking all of these vaccines at once?

[00:08:51] Tom Frieden: The biggest concern is that people don't get them. We have far too many people who are in hospitals who are deathly ill because they weren't vaccinated against a preventable disease. As a doctor, I listen to what patients say, what their concerns are. But these vaccines are remarkably safe and remarkably effective. I get them, I make sure my 93-year-old mother gets them. I make sure my family gets them. If you just look at what doctors do, nearly all doctors get vaccinated, and that's because we see that the vaccines work, we see that they're safe, we see that they're effective, and we see the tragedies that happen when people don't get vaccinated.

[00:09:34] Bill Walsh: OK. Well now it's time to address your questions about the coronavirus and vaccines with Dr. Tom Frieden. As a reminder, press *3 at any time on your telephone keypad to be connected with an AARP staff member to share your question live. And as a reminder, if you'd like to listen to this program in Spanish, press *0 on your telephone keypad now.

[00:09:58] [Española]

[00:09:59] Now I'd like to bring in my AARP colleague Karen Chong to help facilitate your calls today. Welcome, Karen.

[00:10:12] Karen Chong: Hey, Bill, thanks so much for having me on this important conversation. The calls are stacking up, so I don't want to detract too much from the time. First up, we have Craig from Minnesota who has a question about the timing of those booster shots we've just been talking about.

[00:10:28] Bill Walsh: All right. Craig, go ahead with your question.

[00:10:33] Craig: Well, hi there, and thank you for taking my call. I kind of maybe have changed my question if I have time. Simply how long — I kind of know this answer — how long does the vaccine take to the new .. how long does the new booster take to take effect? I got it — tomorrow it'll be two weeks — and I think that's what it takes, right?

[00:11:00] Bill Walsh: Dr. Frieden?

[00:11:02] Tom Frieden: That’s correct. It takes about two weeks for the booster to be fully effective. That's an important point. And what we know is that the boosters are really effective at keeping people out of the hospital and from being severely ill. After a few months, they're much less effective at preventing you from getting infected. But of course, we'd love it if it prevented infection, but that would be, so far, not something that is long-lasting. What is longer-lasting is the protection against severe illness, and that, frankly, is the thing that's even more important.

[00:11:44] Bill Walsh: Now, doctor, Craig had asked about booster shots. Is it the same story with the new omicron vaccine?

[00:11:54] Tom Frieden: The two-dose vaccine, the so-called bivalent vaccine, can be used as a booster. Anyone can get it. Adults can get it. It's available now. It seems to give broader protection, and we hope longer protection. We don't know what the future will hold. We don't know if it's going to be an annual vaccine or something else. But what we do know is to protect yourself now, get a vaccine now. They're available widely. They're safe, they're effective, and they're effective against a broader range of the different strains of COVID that are out there.

[00:12:31] Bill Walsh: OK. Thanks for that. Karen, let's go back to the lines. Who do we have up next?

[00:12:37] Karen Chong: Sure. Next up we have Patricia from Naperville. She has a question about timing.

[00:12:43] Bill Walsh: Hey, Patricia, go ahead with your question for the doctor.

[00:12:47] Patricia: Hello. I had my fourth booster shot June 8th, so it will be about four months now since I've had it. I am immunocompromised in several different ways. I have nonimmune hemolytic anemia. I have third-stage liver disease without cancer. I'm diabetic, etc., etc. I'm wondering if I should wait maybe another month or so before I get the shots because I have had reactions to all of them that were not severe, but usually a lot of fatigue for a week or even two, very sore arm, and blah, blah, blah. Nausea, low appetite, so forth. Should people who tend to get reactions and who have issues wait a little longer, or should we have it right away?

[00:13:55] Bill Walsh: Right. OK, Dr. Frieden.

[00:13:56] Tom Frieden: A great question. You've got ... four months is a pretty good time to think about getting the shot that should last through this season. It's a broader vaccine, so it's going to give you broader coverage than you've had before. If you've had COVID itself, that actually boosts your reaction some. So if you have COVID, I don't recommend anyone get COVID for this or any other reason, but if you've had COVID, that will prolong your immunity from your last vaccine some. But generally, four months, at most six months, is the recommended time period to get a vaccine. Obviously, you should speak with your own doctor about this, but it wouldn't be too soon to get it now. And since, as the first caller mentioned, it takes about two weeks to kick in and we are heading into the fall, when we may have more cases. If you look at the cases rising in Europe now, we've generally followed what happened there by a few weeks or a month or two. It would be a good time to get a vaccine. Again, I would defer to your own doctor. But four months after your last dose, if you haven't had COVID in between, it’s a good time to get it. I certainly wouldn't wait more than six.

[00:15:12] Bill Walsh: OK. Sounds good. Karen, let's go back to the lines. Who do we have up next?

[00:15:17] Karen Chong: Sure, next we have little bit of a pivot. We have Bonnie from Alabama asking about a reaction of the flu shot.

[00:15:23] Bill Walsh: Hey, Bonnie, go ahead and ask your question.

[00:15:27] Bonnie: Yes, sir. Thank you so much. My flu vaccine, which I ...

[00:15:35] Bill Walsh: She’s cut...

[00:15:36] Bonnie: ... sore and I could not reach out for things very easily and I'm just wondering if the pharmacy...

[00:15:42] Bill Walsh: Hmm, her line was breaking up. Maybe Karen, do you want to try another caller?

[00:15:54] Karen Chong: Yeah. Sorry about.

[00:15:55] Bill Walsh: Oh, that's all right.

[00:15:56] Karen Chong: We can try, here’s another caller. How about Gail from California. She has a question about the vaccine for children.

[00:16:03] Bill Walsh: OK, Gail, go ahead with your question. Welcome to our program. ... Hi, Gail, welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question.

[00:16:16] Gail: Oh, sorry. Hi, is it safe and been tested enough for a child to get the new booster shot?

[00:16:27] Bill Walsh: OK, Dr. Frieden.

[00:16:29] Tom Frieden: Yeah, that's another great question, and it's certainly understandable that we worry about any vaccine, and particularly with our children. We want to make sure it's safe. Everything we've seen suggests that it will be both safe and effective. The only concern we've had about vaccine safety for younger people in the past has been with one of the vaccines for adolescent males and young adults, where in about 1 in a million, that's had some inflammation around their heart that has gone away actually with time. The risk of that from the vaccine, though, is lower than the risk of that from COVID itself. So certainly, talk to your doctor, talk to your pediatrician. But all of the data we've seen suggests that the vaccines are both safe and effective, including for children.

[00:17:23] Bill Walsh: OK, very good. Thanks for that, doctor. Karen, let's take another call.

[00:17:33] Karen Chong: Sure. I’m trying to think of those questions I just had. So Norma from Florida has a question about .. no, it just disappeared. Sorry about that. Norma from Florida has a question about switching the manufacturers of vaccines.

[00:17:58] Bill Walsh: OK, Norma, welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question.

[00:18:02] Norma: My question is, my shots were done by the company — it was the Moderna — and in the area I live in, they're not giving Moderna. They're only having Pfizer. Is it all right to switch, or is it better for me to ride out of my area, maybe 50 miles or so, to get the Moderna?

[00:18:25] Bill Walsh: Mm-hmm. Doctor, that's a question we hear a lot about, you know, mixing and matching. Is that, is that OK? Is that healthy?

[00:18:32] Tom Frieden: It's OK. In fact, we had hoped that mixing and matching might be even better because you were kind of covering different bases with your vaccine. The best available data now suggests that it's no better, it's no worse. So I would say get the vaccine that's readily available to you. Both Pfizer and Moderna have the bivalent boosters available. The availability of Pfizer is a little more right now. But if you got Moderna before, I wouldn't hesitate at all to get Pfizer now, or vice versa, or to continue with the same one. The vaccine that's going to work the best is the one that you get when you can.

[00:19:13] Bill Walsh: All right. Good advice. Thanks so much. Karen, who do we have up next?

[00:19:18] Karen Chong: Sure, next up we have Barbara from Washington, who has a question about safety.

[00:19:23] Bill Walsh: Barbara, welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question. Hey, Barbara, go ahead with your question. Do we have Barbara? We should take another question. All right, Karen, why don't we take another caller?

[00:19:49] Karen Chong: Sure, no problem. So we have a question from Charles from Minnesota, asking about attending a family gathering and about what he can do to protect himself. Let me get Charles for you.

[00:20:01] Bill Walsh: Charles, welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question.

[00:20:04] Charles: Yes, I need to attend a family reunion indoors in the middle of October. Very few, if any, of the people there will be masked. So my wife and I are wondering, other than getting our boosters, which we already have done, and wearing KN95 masks, what else can we do to protect ourselves from being infected at this family gathering?

[00:20:28] Bill Walsh: That's a great question, Charles, and I'm sure it's a question on other people's minds as we head into the holiday season. Dr. Frieden, do you have any advice?

[00:20:35] Tom Frieden: It is a great question, and the way I think about this for myself, my family, and patients I speak with is, think of the risks and the benefits of the different activities that you're going to do. If you're going to go to the grocery store, and you're worried about getting infected, there's probably not a lot of harm to wearing a mask or respirator at the grocery store. If, on the other hand, you're meeting with a grandchild, and you really want to interact, you probably don't want to wear a mask. So a lot of this has to do with your personal calculation of your risks and your benefits, your medical situation — are you immunosuppressed, are you medically frail? There are some things that we can do, obviously, if others aren't masked. We need to up our mask game. And I do recommend that you try out not just the KN95s, but even the N95. N95 is the most protective of the three kind. The KN95 is the next-most protective, and then a cloth or surgical mask is less protective than that. So when others aren't masked, it's important to up your mask game. The other thing is ventilation. Ventilation makes a really big difference. You mentioned indoors. Obviously, if you can do things out of doors, there are almost no infections out of doors. There's rare exceptions of that in very enclosed spaces or very packed crowds, but generally, there's so much air outdoors that the virus is diluted and less of a risk to you. You can open the windows, as long as it's not too hot or cold out, to increase ventilation in that way. And then, if you're at an event and you're trying to further reduce your risk, what some people do is, you may want to not eat or eat quickly or eat outside or separate from the others, and the other time have your mask on, preferably a well-fitting N95 mask.

[00:22:36] Bill Walsh: OK. Thanks so much Dr. Frieden. And thanks for all your questions. We're going to take more of your questions shortly. And just as a reminder, if you'd like to ask a question press *3 on your telephone keypad. Doctor, we know you have to go, but we really appreciate your time and all the great information. And thanks, too, to the COVID Collaborative. It's a team of leading experts in health education and the economy that develops recommendations, leads vaccine education, and works with state and local leaders across America. They helped connect us today with Dr. Frieden. Doctor, thank you so much for being here today.

[00:23:14] Tom Frieden: Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure and an honor, and thank you for the work that you do.

[00:23:18] Bill Walsh: All right. Thanks so much. Let me now turn to our two additional expert guests. Two and a half years after the start of the pandemic, it's worth taking stock of how it's affected all of us. As a nation, we've lost an enormous amount — more than a million lives. These were our friends. They were our family. As individuals, we also feel the loss of time spent with loved ones over holidays, vacations that were canceled, more time in isolation than we ever could have expected. As we emerge from the pandemic, it’s helpful to think about how the adversity has affected our lives. And for that, we turn to Sandra Clark, who knows a thing or two about finding meaning in adversity. Sandra is the CEO of StoryCorps. Established in 2003, StoryCorps is a nonprofit organization that seeks to preserve and share humanities stories. Welcome to our program today, Sandy.

[00:24:15] Sandra Clark: Oh, thank you so much, Bill. It's a pleasure to be here.

[00:24:18] Bill Walsh: All right. We're delighted to have you. You'll be joined by Dr. Anand Parekh. Dr. Parekh is the chief medical advisor at the Bipartisan Policy Center, and he will be discussing the future impact of COVID, particularly as we enter flu season. Welcome back to our program, doctor.

[00:24:38] Anand Parekh: Thanks so much, Bill. Great to be on with all of you today.

[00:24:41] Bill Walsh: OK, and thanks to both our guests for … they're going to take your questions shortly. But Sandy, let me begin with a few questions for you. How do purpose and adversity shape our life stories?

[00:24:56] Sandra Clark: Wow. They're most certainly intertwined. And you know, as hard as it is sometimes, you know, purpose often comes out of diversity. And I think we found that particularly in these last few years, you know — they've given us a reason to be every day. And, you know, not being in control of our lives, I think, has reminded us of who and what has mattered the most. And that sometimes can lead to better things. And so one of the, I think, beauties of StoryCorps stories, and these are stories, you know, powerful wisdom from everyday people, is that, you know, it reminds us, one, that we are not alone. And we also hear all the time when people hear StoryCorps stories, particularly on NPR, that they have to pull the car over to the side of the road because they fill with such emotion and reflection. And I think it's because the recording's often, you know, they inspire us, they give us perspective and hope, and they activate something in us that makes us think about how we can make our families, communities, and the nation, better. And, you know, there's lots and lots of stories — countless stories before the pandemic and most certainly now of how people have triumphs over adversity too.

[00:26:13] Bill Walsh: Well, let's get some practical advice from you. How can someone use the circumstances of the past three years to create a new chapter in their life story? Can you give us some practical steps people can take?

[00:26:27] Sandra Clark: Sure. You know, I myself made a career change joining StoryCorps in February. And sometimes, you know, these are entirely new chapters that we create for ourselves. And at other times it's just, you know, really thinking about how we live our old, old chapters better. And so I think sometimes we feel that there's a lot of pressure to, you know, make these, you know, huge changes. And really it starts with small steps. I think a good starting point is to really just do some self-reflection and to ask ourselves, you know, what have we been putting off that now maybe is the time to take a forward step. How do we connect to people we know and don't know, and how can we learn new things? And one of the beauty of StoryCorps conversations is, you know, it makes us take a quiet moment to pose some important questions to ourselves. But the most important thing is to actually take a step. And sometimes that's telling someone what you're thinking.

[00:27:33] Bill Walsh: All right. That's a start of a, no doubt, a great conversation that maybe ends up on StoryCorps. Let's turn to you, Dr. Parekh. According to the CDC, approximately 1 in 5 people who had the virus will ultimately experience persistent symptoms of what's been called long COVID. Are we able to more precisely define and treat long COVID, and what should people do if they think they or a loved one is suffering from it?

[00:28:01] Anand Parekh: You know, Bill, unfortunately, there's no precise definition of long COVID. What we know is that many people continue to have symptoms from COVID after several weeks. In most cases, the symptoms disappear in a matter of days, a week or two. But more and more Americans with COVID are experiencing symptoms many weeks out. So in general, if you're still experiencing symptoms four weeks or out, that's sort of a sign that you're having an inadequate recovery. And individuals are reporting general symptoms like tiredness or fatigue, post-exertional malaise, which essentially means the symptoms get worse after physical or mental effort. Respiratory symptoms like difficulty breathing and cough, neurological symptoms like headache and sleep problems. It's not really known yet what the cause of this is. Is it a reactivation of the virus? Is it the immune system being in hyperdrive, leading to inflammation? So we don't quite know the cause. Unfortunately, there is no test for this, no diagnostic criteria. I think it's important for doctors to rule out other conditions. But the treatment right now is really focused on symptom management, and everyone is presenting with different symptoms it seems. And so my best advice is, if indeed you have COVID, and your symptoms have not gone away after a month, it's a good time to visit your primary care physician, who can recommend a personal management plan for you based on the symptoms you're experiencing. Until we can really find out what the cause of this is and what are the treatments for it, symptom management is really most important right now.

[00:30:00] Bill Walsh: OK, well, let me follow up on that. Some say that to combat long COVID, we need an initiative like Operation Warp Speed, which famously accelerated the development of COVID vaccines. What's your view on that?

[00:30:14] Anand Parekh: Well we certainly need accelerated research efforts by the public sector and the private sector. I think that the good point here, Bill, is that there's a lot of activity in both sectors right now. The NIH, the National Institutes of Health, the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have both launched major initiatives, studies called the Recover Study, the Inspire Study, to identify what are those risk factors and causes of long COVID and what are potential treatments? So there's a lot of ongoing research through the federal government. The private sector, leading academic institutions have also come together to study long COVID. The last point I'll make, Bill, is all of these efforts, they're always looking for individual experiences. Whether you've had long COVID-19 symptoms, if you've had COVID-19 and recovered — all of that information is really critical to helping scientists study these symptoms. So, if anyone on the call is interested in volunteering for a study, I know that federal agencies, as well as the private sector, are always looking for individuals to participate in these important clinical studies.

[00:31:32] Bill Walsh: OK, very good, Doctor. Thanks so much. Now we were just talking to Sandra Clark of StoryCorps about dealing with adversity in our lives. Let's share a brief StoryCorps excerpt about a family remembering Lola Tan. Lola was born in the Philippines and survived the Japanese occupation of World War II. She eventually came to the U.S. to help care for her grandchildren. She died in 2016. In this brief interview, Lola's grandson and her daughter, Kenneth and Olivia, discuss her imprint on their family.

[00:32:10] [audio clip]

[00:32:10] Kenneth: I think I learned from Lola that there’s a difference between your job and your work. Your job is something you leave behind at the end of a day, but your work is everything you leave behind at the end of a lifetime. Lola, she didn’t have the most glamorous jobs, but I think her work was all of us.

[00:32:30] Olivia: It’s her love for us that I remember most. It was not so much of hugging or saying “I love you,” but it was all the things she did. You’re right, we are, we are her work.

[00:32:46] [end of audio clip]

[00:32:49] Bill Walsh: Hmm, Sandy, like this story, many of StoryCorps' best stories are intergenerational — parent and child, a grandparent and grandchild, with wisdom being handed down and sometimes it's being handed up. Why do you focus on these relationships and these stories? What's their importance?

[00:33:10] Sandra Clark: Well, Bill, you know, the intergenerational stories are some of my favorites. And I picked Lola's story to share because there's just so much wisdom and thinking about our job versus our work and what we really want to leave behind. You know, one of the main reasons that people participate in StoryCorps interviews, is really, you know, wanting to make sure that wisdom is passed down from generation to generation. And these, by the way, can be archived, are archived with the Library of Congress if you choose. So, you know, generations well down the road can hear your voice and hear your wisdom. You know, we learned some things from parents and grandparents, but also, you know, there's something about questions and wonderment from kids that bring out so much in us too. And Kenneth Tan actually came back after being cared for by Lola, came back to take care of her when she needed her family the most. And so that kind of, you know, circular caring. I think, is also something so important. For your audience who may not know how StoryCorps works, I just want to share a little bit of how it goes. You know, StoryCorps invites people to record an interview with someone they care about, and it could be a grandparent, a friend, a teacher, just somebody who had an impact in your life, and someone you want to say, you know, you matter to me. You and your partner will record — and these are usually 40-minute interviews and conversations that you're talking to each other. And you can do this through the StoryCorps app, or an in-person onsite recording. So we have an Airstream bus that actually travels to 10 cities across the country every year. We’re right now in Utah and heading to Las Vegas next. And these conversations, you get a copy of the recording, and the copy goes to the Library of Congress, if you choose. So it'll be preserved well into the future for future generations. And then we share out many of these stories on our website, on social media platforms. You can certainly hear them on NPR once a week. We have a podcast, and we also do these wonderful animations out of some of our stories.

[00:35:28] Bill Walsh: Well, that's great. I look forward to those programs every Friday on NPR. They really are a highlight. Well, thank you so much for that, Sandy. Now it's time to address more of your questions. Please press *3 at any time on your telephone keypad to be connected with AARP staff and get in the queue to ask your question live. Karen, who do we have next on the line?

[00:35:52] Karen Chong: Hey, Bill, we have Julia from Utah talking about the surge. Hold on one second.

[00:35:59] Bill Walsh: Hey, Julia. Welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question.

[00:36:03] Julia: Yes. I was just wondering how prepared are we if we get a big new surge, in light of the health care problems with a lot of health care people leaving due to being overwhelmed or due to the vaccine mandate that had been imposed.

[00:36:20] Bill Walsh: Hmm. That's a great question, Julia. Dr. Parekh, can you take that one on.

[00:36:27] Anand Parekh: Sure, I can do so. And certainly, we’ve seen staff shortages in hospitals across the country, particularly related to nurses. You know the best thing that we can do for the health care sector is to prevent hospitalizations from COVID in the first place. And so when I think about the surge — are we prepared? — that’s really a question back to all of us, whether we all will commit to using the tools that have been provided to us, number one, as Dr. Frieden said, staying up to date with vaccinations. Number two, making sure that you use tests if you have symptoms. Number three, ensuring that you have a quick access to treatment if you’re eligible. If you do turn positive, knowing when to appropriately wear a high-quality mask, what types of settings. These tools that we use are our best chance to really not only reduce deaths from COVID-19, reduce surges, but also to protect our health care system so they don’t see the surges that I don’t think any of us want to see.

[00:37:41] Bill Walsh: OK, very good. And doctor, you mentioned just a moment ago as we were talking about long COVID symptoms, you had urged people to take part in clinical trials. I just wanted to give our listeners a website where they can find out more about that. That website is at the National Institutes of Health, and it is RecoverCOVID.org. RecoverCOVID.org. Go there to find out more about clinical trials related to long COVID. Karen, who do we have up next?

[00:38:15] Karen Chong: Hey there, so we have Alex from New York, and he's got a question about — so important nowadays — about mental health.

[00:38:22] Bill Walsh: Hey Alex, welcome to the program. Go ahead with your question.

[00:38:26] Alex: Yeah. Thank you for taking my question. One of the things that I've seen over the past two years is, with a lot of people I know, just seeing the impact on people's mental health, and how in some people, it really deteriorated. And, you know, the well-meaning advice to people to stay indoors, to older people, may not have been, may not have been good in the long run because some people just stayed in, became more and more isolated and stopped taking care of themselves.

[00:39:12] Bill Walsh: Yeah.

[00:39:12] Alex: And so I've, and there are things you can do, there are things that help people in that situation, you know, humor, talking, talking to other people .. for some, faith in a loving God. And but I've, yeah, I just would like you, if you could address that.

[00:39:36] Bill Walsh: Yeah, yeah, Alex. That's a great question. Thanks so much for asking it. I wonder, maybe both our experts can weigh in on this. Sandy, I wonder if this has come up in StoryCorps stories you've heard over the last two years — the mental health impacts of COVID and the isolation that Alex was talking about.

[00:39:56] Sandra Clark: Yeah, Bill, I mean, absolutely. You know, one of the worst aspects of the pandemic was, is isolation for, for many. And not just for the elderly, but also for young people too. And when the pandemic started, you know, the StoryCorps interviews, which we used to record face-to-face, we knew we couldn't do that anymore. And knowing how essential, you know, human connection is and how effective these StoryCorps conversations are in helping people feel more connected, we created a StoryCorps Connect, which is a remote way for people to connect with each other and to share their stories so they don't feel so alone. So, you know, you can look at the StoryCorps.org website and find out more information about StoryCorps Connect, but also our app allows people to connect with each other and interview. And there's something about the, you know, the quietude of those conversations. There's so many things we don't share with the people who are closest to us sometimes. And so, you know, being able to connect through an app and really have an intentional conversation can help mitigate loneliness and also give hope.

[00:41:09] Bill Walsh: Yeah. And doctor, I wonder if you could also address Alex's question. In our own survey data, we've seen increases in depression and sleeplessness, anxiety among older adults, largely during the COVID pandemic period and tied to isolation. Do you have any clinical advice on that front?

[00:41:28] Anand Parekh: Yeah, you know, I agree with Sandy — social isolation and loneliness and depression, particularly in older adults, was a challenge even before the pandemic. But the pandemic simply exacerbated that. So I think working with your doctor, or working with community-based organizations, you know finding different ways to connect virtually as well as otherwise to peers — all of those things help us with conditions such as anxiety as well as depression. So I think the messaging also is very important with respect to the pandemic, and that’s why I do say now … we don’t have to think about the pandemic all the time anymore. Let’s just make sure that we don’t forget about these tools. So I think all of those messages are important. I will also add one public service announcement for those individuals who are in crisis, who are having a behavioral health crisis. There’s now a new national crisis hotline number, 988. This number is now live all across the country, and individuals who are experiencing a mental health crisis can call that number, and they’ll be routed to counselors as well as triage, depending upon their level of need. So I think that’s important that all older adults, all Americans know that that 988 number is now live.

[00:42:55] Bill Walsh: Yep. Thanks so much for mentioning that. What a great resource. We're going to take more listener questions in just a moment, but before we do, let's get an update from Capitol Hill. In addition to sharing information and resources, AARP advocates for issues that affect you the most. To get a quick update on how AARP is fighting for you, I want to bring in my AARP colleague, Government Affairs Vice President Megan O'Reilly. Welcome to the program, Megan.

[00:43:24] Megan O'Reilly: Happy to be here, Bill.

[00:43:25] Bill Walsh: All right. I want to ask about a few important issues today, but let's start with some good news. Of course, last month, historic prescription drug reforms passed the House and Senate and were signed into law.

[00:43:38] Megan O'Reilly: Yes, prescription drug reform is a huge victory for older Americans. After decades of calling on Congress to make prescription drugs more affordable, AARP has won the fight for Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices and help seniors save money on their medications. The new law will also put an annual $2,000 limit on how much seniors on Medicare Part D will have to pay out of pocket for their medications. And it penalizes drugmakers that increase prices faster than the rate of inflation. Finally, the new law cap costs of Medicare-covered insulin at $35 a month, and it eliminates out-of-pocket costs for most vaccines under Medicare, such as the shingles vaccine. These are huge wins.

[00:44:23] Bill Walsh: Well, that's just wonderful news, Megan. And, of course, that important $2,000 limit on out-of-pocket spending kicks off in 2025. You know, we're also entering election season right now. What is AARP’s focus heading into the November election?

[00:44:41] Megan O'Reilly: First, I want to remind folks that AARP is strictly nonpartisan and always has been. We don't endorse or give money to candidates. That said, we're working hard to make sure that candidates pay attention to older Americans and address the issues that are most important to them. Voters aged 50 and above will likely make up the majority of the electorate in November, as they have in all recent elections. We're also making sure our members and the public know where and when to vote. A lot of states have had changes to their voting rules since the last election, so we're doing a lot of education and outreach to explain what's different and what stays the same. In addition to election pages on aarp.org, this month's issue of the AARP Bulletin also details how you can vote in your state.

[00:45:30] Bill Walsh: Yeah, check out that AARP Bulletin. It's an excellent issue. Now, AARP recently conducted research that focuses specifically on women ages 50 and above. The research was called “She's the Difference: The Power of Older Women Voters.” And the poll showed some important findings, didn’t it?

[00:45:51] Megan O'Reilly: It did. You know, women over the age of 50 are a critical voting demographic. They make up nearly 27 percent of registered voters, and more than 8 in 10 turned out to vote in 2020. This group also makes up the biggest block of swing voters. Older women may not always feel seen or appreciated, but they are here, they are strong, and they will make their voices heard. Elected leaders and political candidates would be wise to listen and understand the needs and concerns of women aged 50 and above, and indeed all older Americans.

[00:46:24] Bill Walsh: OK, thanks for that update, Megan. Now, before I let you go, I want to ask about the current state of COVID in America's nursing homes. For those living and working in skilled nursing facilities, this pandemic is far from over.

[00:46:40] Megan O'Reilly: Sadly, that's correct. AARP's Nursing Home COVID Dashboard shows that COVID still has a deadly grip on the nation's nursing homes with the number of deaths and cases among residents and staff nationwide rising for the fourth consecutive month. For the four weeks ending on Aug. 21, there were more than a 100,000 new COVID cases identified in nursing homes, with about 1 out of every 22 residents testing positive. In addition, the rate of nursing home resident deaths nationwide increased by about 30 percent, compared to the previous numbers. Tragically, more than 1,000 nursing home residents and more than 100 staff died from COVID during this four-week period.

[00:47:23] Bill Walsh: What should people do if they have a loved one in a nursing home?

[00:47:27] Megan O'Reilly: Our numbers show that only a little more than half of nursing home residents nationwide are up to date with their COVID vaccinations and considered fully protected. With cold weather and flu season upon us, we must do everything we can to protect our loved ones. A big part of that is prioritizing vaccines and boosters. Don't take for granted that your loved one has received theirs. Follow up with their care providers and make a plan.

[00:47:52] Bill Walsh: All right. Great advice. Thanks for being here today, Megan. And if our listeners want to stay on top of AARP’s advocacy efforts, how can they find out the latest?

[00:48:02] Megan O'Reilly: We encourage everyone to go online and search “AARP Fighting for You.” That'll lead you to the daily roundup of all the latest advocacy news on our work with Congress and across the country. You can also search “AARP Fierce Defender” and find a host of updates and money-saving resources.

[00:48:22] Bill Walsh: OK, “AARP Fierce Defender.” Thanks very much for being with us today, Megan. And we are going to take some more listener calls in just a moment. But first I had a question for our experts. Sandy, I was just talking to Megan about caring for our loved ones. As we emerge from the pandemic, what's the one question we should be asking our loved ones.

[00:48:47] Sandra Clark: Oh wow, that's a great question, Bill. There's so many questions, but I think, you know, the gift of listening is very powerful. And what would you share with future generations in our family about this time, and what have you learned? I think there's so much that, you know, can be gained from hearing from someone in their own voice about how they have processed this time, and sort of the lessons that they want to share with their families going forward.

[00:49:15] Bill Walsh: OK, thanks. Great advice. Now it's time to take more of your questions for Sandra Clark, the CEO of StoryCorps, and Dr. Anand Parekh. Please press *3 at any time on your telephone keypad to be connected with an AARP staff member and get in the queue to ask your question live. Karen, who do we have on the line now?

[00:49:39] Karen Chong: Hey, Bill, so we actually have an online question, I think for Sandy from StoryCorps. “How can we encourage relatives to share family stories if they're reluctant?”

[00:49:49] Bill Walsh: Sandy, how about that one?

[00:49:52] Sandy Clark: Thank you. I love that question. You know, I can't say enough about how we should act now, as we've all learned that tomorrow's not promised. And so, you know, we should really approach it with a finite period of time to capture these stories — as someone who didn't get my own mother and father's voices captured. I think just to say you're important to me. And it means everything for us and those coming after us to hear your story in your voice; it's the most priceless gift you can give us. And, you know, to make this easier, you can go to StoryCorps.org. And really, we even have a set of questions if you need some prompts to get the conversation started. And then they can also look at the many, many stories that, I mean — about 600,000 people have been recorded since we began StoryCorps. And so they can look and see this wonderful, beautiful collection of people who have shared their stories as well.

[00:50:55] Bill Walsh: OK, thanks so much. We'll have to check that out. StoryCorps.org. Karen, who is next on the line?

[00:51:04] Karen Chong: So we have Jean from Illinois, who wants to talk about vaccines versus immunity from having had COVID. Here you go.

[00:51:14] Bill Walsh: All right, well, welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question.

[00:51:18] Jean: Yes. I would just like to hear a doctor address the comparison between getting COVID, whether it be a mild case or hospitalization and surviving. So your body has already developed its own immunity toward it, and I'd like to compare the efficacy of that as opposed to the vaccines. I'm not, I mean the boosters, excuse me, I'm not anti-vaccine. I've had, you know that. And most people where we live have, if not all. But then my question is basically more geared toward the boosters.

[00:51:53] Bill Walsh: Mm. Thanks so much for that. Yeah, go ahead. Thanks so much for that question. I think a lot of people do wonder about so-called natural immunity versus the effectiveness of the boosters. And doctor, I wonder if you could address that.

[00:52:07] Anand Parekh: Sure, I’m happy to do so. So both vaccine-induced immunity, as well as natural immunity, can be and are protective against COVID-19. Most studies demonstrate that vaccine-induced immunity is more robust than natural immunity. It lasts longer. It’s more effective. But the single-most important reason why, if you had to choose — you would always choose vaccine-induced immunity as opposed to natural immunity — is no one wants to take the risk of going through COVID-19. We just talked about long COVID as well. Studies show that if you’re vaccinated, the chance for long COVID are less. So we don’t want to take the risk for any of us to experience COVID, and that’s another reason why vaccine-induced immunity is so important. At this point, in terms of boosters, and the recommendation is that this new bivalent booster — which will protect us against not only the original strain but the newer omicron strain — is recommended in adults, particularly older adults, as long as it’s been two months since you’ve received that last booster. And I think that is really the scientific recommendation and consensus — that to protect ourselves as we come to this wintertime, that it’s best to get that vaccine. In the short term, it’ll also help prevent infection. But over the long term, it’s the most durable way to protect us from severe illness and that’s what, I think, we all want to avoid.

[00:53:46] Bill Walsh: All right, doctor. Thanks so much for that. Karen, let's take another question.

[00:53:53] Karen Chong: [inaudible] ... who has a question about just how many vaccines and boosters are right. Here we go.

[00:53:59] Bill Walsh: Hi, welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question.

[00:54:03] Female caller: Hello, can you hear me?

[00:54:04] Bill Walsh: I sure can go ahead with your question.

[00:54:06] Karen Chong: OK. If you've had the two vaccines, Moderna, and you've also had the two boosters. And the last booster was the 1st of June, do you still need to take the new booster that's out now, the omicron vaccine? And if so, how long after your last booster? And also, if you've had cortisone injections or some steroid injections for arthritis pain, do you need to wait a certain period of time before you can take the omicron vaccine? And this is also in regard to a 15-year-old child as well, who has Crohn's and is taking Remicade infusions for Crohn's.

[00:55:05] Bill Walsh: Well, let's, yeah, thanks so much for that question, those two questions. Let’s go ahead and ask the doctor about that. Doctor?

[00:55:13] Anand Parekh: Well, and thanks for both of those questions. And I think, in particular, to the second question related to steroids. And I believe this is for a 15-year-old child. It’s best to consult with the child's physician as to the timing of the corticosteroid shot as well as the bivalent booster. But the recommendation now is, and for a 15-year-old, the Pfizer — Moderna is 18 and older — so this would be the Pfizer vaccine. But if an individual is out more than two months since the last vaccine — so in this case, I think it's more than two months; it would have been about four months — then yes, they are eligible. And, in this particular case, given the child is immunosuppressed or has a chronic condition such as Crohn's, I think it would be advisable to get this booster over the next few weeks, particularly before we get into the winter season.

[00:56:18] Bill Walsh: OK. Thanks so much for that, doctor. Karen, let's take another call.

[00:56:23] Karen Chong: Sure, we have Marcia from California, and she's got questions about reactions to the vaccine.

[00:56:29] Bill Walsh: Hi, welcome to the program. Go ahead with your question.

[00:56:33] Marcia: OK, I'm 98 years old. My son is 74 years old. He got the COVID about three months ago. I never got it from him, and I still have no symptoms. I don't have it. But he has residual effects that's ongoing now, mostly in regard to his breathing. He says he can't sleep at night, and when he does get to sleep, all of a sudden, his nose clogs up and then he wakes up and he goes into a panic attack. He's afraid he's going to die, and he can't get his breath. And then he can't go back to sleep. And it's just a vicious circle. And is there any suggestions for him? He takes the inhaler and everything else he knows to do, but nothing works.

[00:57:33] Bill Walsh: Yeah, well, let's ask the doctor. Doctor, it sounds like what she's describing may be the symptoms of long COVID.

[00:57:40] Anand Parekh: Yes, it could very well be. And first I want to, you know, thank the caller and am so glad that she is in good health. And in terms of her son, and I'm sure the son's physician is looking into this — ruling out other conditions that could masquerade for long COVID. But he certainly could have exactly what we were describing on the call, or earlier, long COVID — which is not very well precisely defined yet. And really the treatment for these symptoms are really anything we can do to manage them. So for example, if it is related to difficulty breathing, there's something called pulmonary rehabilitation that helps with breathing. If it's related to sleep, there are perhaps things that can be done to alleviate the sleep symptoms. But it's really working through with the physician to create a personal management plan to try to get at those most debilitating symptoms. Until we can, until the research can better ascertain exactly what is going on and why it's going on so we can prevent it in the first place and have better treatments. So right now it's really all about managing the key symptoms, and that's what individuals should be talking to their personal physician about.

[00:59:02] Bill Walsh: Right, and our caller said she was 98. I sure hope that she's up to date on her vaccines and boosters to protect herself from these ongoing symptoms her son seems to be experiencing. All right, well this has been an informative discussion. I want to thank all of our guests for their information and insights, and thank you our AARP members, volunteers, and listeners for participating in the call today. AARP, a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization, has been working to promote the health and well-being of older Americans for more than 60 years. In the face of this crisis, we're providing information and resources to help older adults and those caring for them protect themselves from the virus, prevent its spread to others while taking care of themselves. All the resources referenced today, including a recording of the Q&A event, can be found at aarp.org/coronavirus beginning tomorrow, Sept. 30. Go there if your question was not addressed, and you'll find the latest updates as well as information created specifically for older adults and family caregivers. We hope you learned something that can help keep you and your loved ones healthy. Please join us again on Nov. 10 for another tele-town hall on COVID-19. Thank you and have a good day. This concludes our call.

En español

Vaccines, Flu Season and Telling Our Stories

Listen to a replay of the event above

AARP hosted another informational COVID tele-town hall to address bivalent boosters, flu vaccines and how adversity shapes our life story. As we emerge from the pandemic, older adults yearn for more social gatherings with family and friends and to explore new and meaningful personal endeavors, including hobbies, travel, and community service. Many feel isolated for too long. You heard from StoryCorps’ CEO how adversity and purpose influence our life story and will also discuss the latest COVID developments — including how vaccines tailored to the Omicron sub-variants provide a new tool to stave off the virus, concerns that lower influenza vaccine rates could mean a difficult flu season ahead, and new long COVID treatments.

This event focused on the following areas:

  • The latest update on COVID vaccines and what to expect as we head into cold and flu season.
  • How do purpose and adversity shape our life story?
  • How do we capture and preserve our stories about life during the pandemic?

Speakers:

  • Tom Frieden, MD, CEO, Resolve to Save Lives; former Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Sandra Clark, CEO, StoryCorps
  • Anand Parekh, MD, Chief Medical Advisor at the Bipartisan Policy Center

For the latest coronavirus news and advice, go to AARP.org/coronavirus.


Replay previous AARP Coronavirus Tele-Town Halls

  • September 15 - Coronavirus: Finding Purpose as we Move Beyond COVID
  • June 2 - Coronavirus: Living With COVID
  • May 5 - Coronavirus: Life Beyond the Pandemic
  • April 14Coronavirus: Boosters, Testing and Nursing Home Safety
  • March 24Coronavirus: Impact on Older Adults and Looking Ahead
  • March 10Coronavirus: What We’ve Learned and Moving Forward
  • February 24Coronavirus: Current State, What to Expect, and Heart Health
  • February 10 - Coronavirus: Omicron, Vaccines and Mental Wellness
  • January 27 - Coronavirus: Omicron, Looking Ahead, and the Impact on Nursing Homes
  • January 13 - Coronavirus: Staying Safe During Changing Times
  • December 16 - Coronavirus: What You Need to Know About Boosters, Vaccines & Variants
  • December 9 - Coronavirus: Boosters, Vaccines and Your Health
  • November 18 - Coronavirus: Your Questions Answered — Vaccines, Misinformation & Mental Wellness
  • November 4 - Coronavirus: Boosters, Health & Wellness
  • October 21 - Coronavirus: Protecting Your Health & Caring for Loved Ones
  • October 7 - Coronavirus: Boosters, Flu Vaccines and Wellness Visits
  • September 23 - Coronavirus: Delta Variant, Boosters & Self Care
  • September 9 - Coronavirus: Staying Safe, Caring for Loved Ones & New Work Realities
  • August 26 - Coronavirus: Staying Safe, New Work Realities & Managing Finances
  • August 12 - Coronavirus: Staying Safe in Changing Times
  • June 24 - The State of LGBTQ Equality in the COVID Era
  • June 17 - Coronavirus: Vaccines And Staying Safe During “Reopening”
  • June 3 - Coronavirus: Your Health, Finances & Housing
  • May 20 - Coronavirus: Vaccines, Variants and Coping
  • May 6 - Coronavirus: Vaccines, Variants and Coping
  • April 22 - Your Vaccine Questions Answered and Coronavirus: Vaccines and Asian American and Pacific Islanders
  • April 8 - Coronavirus and Latinos: Safety, Protection and Prevention and Vaccines and Caring for Grandkids and Loved Ones
  • April 1 - Coronavirus and The Black Community: Your Vaccine Questions Answered
  • March 25 - Coronavirus: The Stimulus, Taxes and Vaccine
  • March 11 - One Year of the Pandemic and Managing Personal Finances and Taxes
  • February 25 - Coronavirus Vaccines and You
  • February 11 - Coronavirus Vaccines: Your Questions Answered
  • January 28 - Coronavirus: Vaccine Distribution and Protecting Yourself
    & A Virtual World Awaits: Finding Fun, Community and Connections
  • January 14 - Coronavirus: Vaccines, Staying Safe & Coping and Prevention, Vaccines & the Black Community
  • January 7 - Coronavirus: Vaccines, Stimulus & Staying Safe
  • Dec 3 - Coronavirus: Staying Safe & Coping This Winter
  • Nov 19 - Coronavirus: Vaccines, Staying and A Caregiver's Thanksgiving
  • Nov 12 - Coronavirus: Coping and Maintaining Your Well-Being
  • Oct 1 - Coronavirus: Vaccines & Coping During the Pandemic
  • Sept 17 - Coronavirus: Prevention, Treatments, Vaccines & Avoiding Scams
  • Sept 3 - Coronavirus: Your Finances, Health & Family (6 months in)
  • Aug 20 - Your Health and Staying Protected
  • Aug 6 - Coronavirus: Answering Your Most Frequent Questions
  • July 23 - Coronavirus: Navigating the New Normal
  • July 16 - The Health and Financial Security of Latinos
  • July 9 - Coronavirus: Your Most Frequently Asked Questions
  • June 18 and 20 - Strengthening Relationships Over Time and  LGBTQ Non-Discrimination Protections
  • June 11 – Coronavirus: Personal Resilience in the New Normal