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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 virtual 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 the global coronavirus pandemic, AARP is providing information and resources to help older adults and those caring for them. As we reflect on what has been a really challenging 2021 and prepare for the new year, we're filled with both hope and concern. While more than 87 percent of people 65 and older are fully vaccinated and boosters are widely available, there is increasing uncertainty with the emergence of the omicron variant. As we approach two years in the COVID-19 pandemic, the question has become, will this ever end? And, of course, Americans have immediate concerns about staying safe and staying healthy as they prepare to gather with loved ones for the holidays.

Tonight we'll hear from two top experts about these issues and more. If you've participated in one of our virtual town halls before, you know that this is similar to a talk show, and you have the opportunity to ask your questions live. For those of you joining us on the phone, if you'd like to ask a question about the coronavirus pandemic, 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. …

We have two special guests joining us this evening, including the directors of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health. We'll also be joined by my AARP colleague Jesse Salinas, 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.

Now I'd like to welcome our guests. Rochelle P. Walensky, M.D, is the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Welcome back to the program, Dr. Walensky.

Rochelle Walensky: I'm delighted to be here and especially glad to be here with Dr. Collins. Thank you to AARP for inviting me to participate. And to you, Francis, as you step down from 12 years, 12 incredible years as director of NIH, please let me share my appreciation for the work you have done and will continue to do to change and save lives. Thank you.

Bill Walsh: All right. And thank you very much for being with us. Francis S. Collins, M.D., is the director of the National Institutes of Health. Welcome back to the program, Dr. Collins.

Francis Collins: I am glad and to be with you, and I am also very glad to do this program with Dr. Walensky, who is such a remarkable leader, our nation's chief public health officer who has done so much in the course of these very difficult two years of COVID-19 to get the information out there and to be sure that everything's being done to help people. And I hope we're going to have a chance to answer a lot of questions tonight, but it's really a privilege in my last three days before I step down as NIH director, to spend time with all of you.

Bill Walsh: I'm glad we got you on the program before you stepped down. Let's go ahead and get started with our discussion … Dr. Walensky, let's start with you. The president recently outlined new plans to address the pandemic. What's changed, and why were those changes needed?

Rochelle Walensky: So, as the United States heads into the winter months and sees the emergence of a new variant, the omicron variant, early in December, President Biden announced nine new actions to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Now omicron currently accounts for about 3 percent of all COVID cases and has been detected now in 38 states, as well as in Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. The president recognizes, we all recognize that we can't be complacent in this moment. And so his new plan includes ensuring nearly 100 million eligible Americans who have not yet gotten their booster shot, get one as soon as possible; improving access to free at-home testing, and strengthening it; strengthening international travel protocols. Now these steps are necessary because COVID-19 has not slowed, and we are again seeing an increase in cases and hospitalizations, and we're seeing about 1,100 deaths now per day. We cannot, I cannot be in a position where that's OK. Vaccination is our way out of this pandemic, and our vaccines are protecting people from COVID-19. They're slowing transmission, and they're reducing the likelihood that new variants emerge. Right now over 200 million Americans are fully vaccinated, and over 55 million Americans have already received their booster dose. Everyone over 16 should get a booster as soon as they are eligible. If you received either the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine doses, you're eligible for a booster shot six months after your second dose. If you received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you're eligible for a booster two months after receiving your single Johnson & Johnson dose. So getting vaccinated and getting a booster dose, if you're eligible, are really right now the most important actions you can take to protect yourself and those around you.

Bill Walsh: Thanks so much for that, Dr. Walensky. Dr. Collins, let's turn to you. Why is the omicron variant so worrying? What protections do the current vaccines offer against it? And does it mean, as the Pfizer CEO said last week, that an additional vaccine dose will be needed soon?

Francis Collins: So we're all getting used to the Greek alphabet, aren't we? We keep seeing variants arising from this original virus, SARS-CoV-2, which was first identified in Wuhan, China. But over the course of time, each time the virus has a chance to copy itself, once in a while, it makes a mistake and most of those are harmful to the virus, but occasionally they provide it with some advantages. And so new variants emerge. Alpha, beta, delta, gamma, and now omicron. Omicron is concerning in particular because it has a very large number of differences, mutations as we call them, in its instruction book, which means that it's kind of a different virus than what we've been dealt, dealing with before. I mean, it's still related, it's still part of the same family, but it has enough differences that people have worried a lot about whether the vaccinations that we've all been counting on are going to protect us against omicron. So here's the data. The data says that in fact, if you've had two doses of Pfizer or two doses of Moderna, you do have some protection against omicron, but it's not as good as you might like. It's not as good as it was against the original virus. The good news, though, is that a booster, which you are eligible for as Dr. Walensky just outlined, most people who've had, the original immunization are eligible for a booster, the booster gives you a much better protection against omicron up in the space of 80 percent or so. And that's really an encouraging finding, and it says that we don't at the moment really need a separate vaccine that's specifically designed against omicron. The vaccines we've got right now are actually capable of providing protection, but you need that booster. Now, I know we're talking to AARP, and I'm a member, basically most people over 65 have gotten the original vaccines because they've understood that this is a virus that is particularly dangerous for older people, but a lot of them haven't yet gotten a booster. So people listening tonight, if there's one message I hope you will go away from is, if you haven't yet gotten that booster, if you've been putting it off or you weren't quite sure if you needed it, this is the moment to get that arranged because omicron is going to be a real challenge for all of us, and the booster is your best protection. Go to vaccines.gov, or if you have a cell phone just [text your zip code to] 438829 … and it will tell you where is the closest place to you that has vaccines ready to deliver. And don't wait. Get your booster the next few days. It'll be the best Christmas present you could give to yourself.

Bill Walsh: Great advice. Thank you, Dr. Collins. Dr. Walensky, let's turn back to you. Our listeners continue to ask us if there are circumstances under which they don't need to get, or shouldn't get, a vaccine or a booster. Are there specific ailments or preexisting conditions that would preclude people from getting a vaccine or booster?

Rochelle Walensky: Thank you for that question. And the short answer is no, but COVID-19 vaccines, whether it's your primary vaccination series or a booster dose, are recommended for and can be administered to really most people with underlying medical conditions including cancer, HIV, chronic kidney disease, and liver disease, diabetes and pregnancy. And in fact, it's generally the case that those with those underlying conditions are especially the ones who need the boosters themselves. Everyone over the age of 5, including immunocompromised people, should receive a COVID-19 vaccine primary series, as soon as possible. People who are immunocompromised are especially vulnerable to COVID-19, so those are the ones you absolutely want to make sure we get boosted, and adults of any age with certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness from the virus that causes COVID-19. Exceptions to this are really exceptionally rare. And if you think you have one, you should consult with your health care provider for advice about your specific situation, but generally the rule is, there are very few people who shouldn't get a COVID-19 vaccine or booster.

Bill Walsh: OK, thank you very much for that. Let me follow up. Talking about vaccines, what can you tell us, Dr. Walensky, about the recommendation from the CDC advisers today to choose Pfizer and/or Moderna vaccines instead of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?

Rochelle Walensky: Thank you for that question. This news is just as of today. So today the CDC endorsed updated recommendations made from the Advisory Committee on Immunization practices, that's our vaccine advisory committee, for the prevention of COVID-19, and we expressed a clinical preference for individuals to receive an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine over a Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. Now the advisory committee's unanimous recommendation followed a really robust scientific discussion on the latest evidence on vaccine effectiveness, vaccine safety, and very rare adverse events, and consideration of a very robust U.S. vaccine supply. So the supply of mRNA vaccines is abundant in this country with nearly 100 million doses in the field right now for immediate use. And so this updated CDC recommendation follows similar recommendations that we've seen from other countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom. Now, the one thing I want to say is if you've previously gotten a Johnson & Johnson vaccine, that's great. I'm glad you got vaccinated, and if you're two months out of that, you should go ahead and get boosted. But given the current state of the pandemic right here and around the world, the ACIP really reaffirmed that receiving any vaccine is better than being unvaccinated, and that's likely what happened whenever it is you got that first dose. But individuals who are unable or unwilling to receive an mRNA vaccine should continue to have access to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Bill Walsh: Thanks so much for that, Dr. Walensky. Dr. Collins, you know so many Americans had dreams of travel or time with loved ones delayed or dashed by this pandemic. What words of encouragement can you offer? And what advice do you have for people visiting relatives this holiday season?

Francis Collins: Well, I know people are so tired of COVID-19, believe me, I am too tired of recommendations about things that you can't do, but unfortunately, this virus is a wily virus, and it is not giving up its attack on us. And in fact, as you have heard, the number of cases has been going up in the course of the last few weeks, most of these from delta, and then we have omicron that we're sort of looking back over our shoulder and seeing it coming and probably will be the dominant viral variant in the United States in the coming weeks. So it's not a time to relax and let up your guard, but let me be clear. We do now have vaccines. We didn't have those a year ago when we were talking about the holidays, and we, therefore, in a circumstance where people have gotten vaccinated, have gotten boosted, have a certain level of protection against what's happening, but still, I would say if you're traveling on the holidays, be very careful about not gathering in indoor spaces with other people whose vaccination status is unknown. And certainly, you should be wearing a mask indoors according to CDC's guidelines, because that's not just a little bit of protecting yourself, you're protecting other people against the fact that you might be infected without knowing it even if you have been vaccinated. Again, I think people, if they're careful about this, can manage to have these kinds of holiday gatherings, but best to keep them on the modest size and be sure that everybody around you has their vaccination status established. All the gatherings that I am considering going to over the holidays, basically, they're saying, if you're not vaccinated, we'll see you another time. And I can see why that is. And some are even saying, even if you are vaccinated and boosted, why don't you get a test the day before you come to our party. That's not required, but that is something a lot of people are starting to think about as just an added level of safety.

Bill Walsh: Thank you, Dr. Collins for that. We're going to get to [your] live questions soon, but before we do, I want to bring in Nancy LeaMond. Nancy is the executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer here at AARP. Welcome, Nancy, it's nice to have you with us.

Nancy LeaMond: HI, Bill. Great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Bill Walsh: Now you've been providing us updates about critical legislation pending on Capitol Hill that would benefit older Americans. What's the latest?

Nancy LeaMond: Well, the House and Senate were both in session this week, and we are continuing our advocacy on the Build Back Better Act, which of course still needs to clear the Senate. In terms of what's new, in the last couple of hours we've had reports from both the White House and the Congress that indicates that the Build Back Better debate is going to move into the new year. Now make no mistake, AARP will keep fighting to make sure key provisions and priorities remain in the bill — the main one being provisions to help lower prescription drug prices. American families simply can't afford to keep paying the highest prices in the world. It's time for Congress to allow Medicare to negotiate some drug costs and take other steps to reign in big pharma. We're closer than we've ever been, and we're doing all we can to see it through. We're also advocating for adding hearing coverage to Medicare, paid leave, and other policies that would be enormously beneficial for older adults.

Bill Walsh: The New York Times reported this week that the U.S. has surpassed 800,000 COVID related deaths, and almost three-quarters of those were people ages 65 and older. I mean, it's hard to imagine, but one of every 100 older Americans has now died from the virus.

Nancy LeaMond: It is hard to imagine that the depth of this tragedy is just unfathomable. COVID is now the third leading cause of death among 65-plus behind heart disease and cancer. We've lost too many lives, and with almost 1,200 Americans still dying of COVID every day we must remain in the fight. We have to do all we can to keep everyone safe. Too many people have empty chairs around their tables this holiday season, and our hearts go out to everyone who has lost someone.

Bill Walsh: Nancy, we've done many of these virtual town halls together and since the pandemic began. Coming to the end of 2021, is there anything that gives you cause for optimism?

Nancy LeaMond: Well, it's uncertain as things are. We do have an awful lot to be thankful for. Remember this time last year, we weren't sure when COVID vaccines would be widely available, and now, according to CDC, you heard from Dr. Walensky earlier, 87 percent of adults 65 and older are fully vaccinated, and more than 54 million Americans have received an additional booster dose in the last few months. With so much information and misinformation out there, AARP is focused on being a trusted resource for the 50-plus and their families, and I'm proud that we've connected thousands of people to experts and credible information, we've helped folks make vaccine appointments, and in some communities we provided free rides for people to get their shots. But the pandemic isn't over, and we must stay vigilant and continue to support each other through this.

Bill Walsh: All right. Thanks for that, Nancy. Any parting thoughts?

Nancy LeaMond: I want to wish everyone a healthy and happy holiday season from AARP. Please get vaccinated and get your booster shot if you haven't already. This virus, as we've heard again tonight, is so dangerous for those who are older, and we're not out of the woods yet. Be well, stay safe, everyone, and of course, please turn to AARP for information or questions down the line.

Bill Walsh: All right, thanks so much, Nancy. Thanks for being with us today. It's now time to address your questions about the coronavirus with Dr. Rochelle Walensky and Dr. Francis Collins. … Now, I'd like to bring in my AARP colleague Jesse Salinas to help facilitate your calls this evening. Welcome, Jesse.

Jesse Salinas: I'm glad to be here, Bill.

Bill Walsh: All right, who is our first caller?

Jesse Salinas: Our first caller is actually going to be from social media, from YouTube, and it's from Dennis Cleary, and he says, "Is it wise to go to a family Christmas? I'm vaccinated and boostered."

Bill Walsh: Dr. Collins, you were just talking about gathering during the holidays. What can you tell our listener?

Francis Collins: A lot depends about who else is coming to the family Christmas. I'm glad the caller is already vaccinated and boosted, which means he has pretty good protection against infection, but it's not absolute. And so, again, for maximum benefits of the kinds of procedures that are going to keep us all healthy, I would say it would be best to find out if the other people coming to the gathering are also vaccinated and boosted. And if not, then one really ought to think about whether you want to be together indoors for a long period of time, or whether you should be wearing masks when you're there. Of course, that's really hard if you're going to have a big Christmas dinner — you can't have your mask on then. I would just say as a means of caution right now because this virus is still with us, serious consideration might be given by the caller about whether you want to attend a circumstance where other people in the room have not been vaccinated because that places everybody at risk.

Bill Walsh: OK, thanks so much for that. Jesse, let's go back to the lines. Who do we have next?

Jesse Salinas: Our next caller is going to be Carol from Minnesota.

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

Carol: Yes, my question is for people that have not been vaccinated and then got … COVID and got over it, is there a protocol for them then to get vaccinated? And if there is, how long should they wait?

Bill Walsh: Dr. Walensky, can you field that question?

Rochelle Walensky: Absolutely, Carol. Thank you for that question. We have received many questions just like that. We are absolutely recommending that people who have been previously infected still get the full vaccine series. And so if you've been previously infected in the last month or two, you may want to wait a month or so, but if you've been previously infected more than a month ago, then I would say, get started on a vaccine series now. But what we know, as Dr. Collins was saying, is that the current omicron variant has a lot of mutations, and because it has so many mutations, we may need quite a bit more immune protection against this variant. So you have some protection because you've been previously exposed, but we're still recommending that even if you've had the disease before, that you bolster your protection especially against the omicron variant with a full vaccine series.

Bill Walsh: OK, thanks very much. Jesse, who's next?

Jesse Salinas: Our next caller is going to be Pat from New York.

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

Pat: My question is, if you have received all three of the Pfizer's shots — now, my husband and I received our booster last August — is it still going to be as viable to fight the virus now during the winter months?

Bill Walsh: What about that, Dr. Walensky? What is the long-term impact of these vaccines? How long do they protect us?

Rochelle Walensky: So if you've been boosted, that is our current recommendation, and I wouldn't say that you need anything more, right at this moment. We're actively studying how well our boosters work, not only for the delta variant, but also for the omicron variant, and we are anticipating that they're going to work well. How well they work overtime is still a matter of data that is emerging, but we have no further recommendations for any more vaccines for you right now. So good for you for getting boosted, and we will continue to follow that science and give more recommendations as that science evolves.

Bill Walsh: Thank you very much. Jesse, who's next on the line?

Jesse Salinas: Our next caller is going to be Mark from Minnesota.

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

Mark: OK, I have a daughter who's 40. … She has special needs. She had her Johnson & Johnson back in March, the one-shot, and then Nov. 1 she had her booster … the Pfizer full- shot booster versus the half-shot Moderna. And so I'm wondering how effective her regimen is versus the three-shot regimen. And we're going to be going to the … I'm going to bring her to the Rose Parade in Pasadena on Jan. 1, and it's going to be outside, but I'm just wondering about the effectiveness of her regimen.

Bill Walsh: Right, sure. Dr. Collins, would you take that one?

Francis Collins: I'd be glad to. We actually at NIH tested this very question by looking to see if you could mix and match between your initial immunization series and the booster, what would happen. So that included the Pfizer, the Moderna and the J&J, and if you started with one of those, but you then boosted with any one of the other three, what happened? The good news was that basically with J&J, if you got boosted with Pfizer or Moderna, you ended up with very impressive antibody levels, very similar to what would have happened if you'd stuck with Pfizer or Moderna all along. So I think your daughter is in very good shape. She's gotten the booster. Again, because omicron is out there, and we know it's going to be capable of more breakthroughs, the idea of celebrating outdoors, like at the Rose Parade, sounds like a good idea. And if indoors, then wear the masks because you never know who is around you and what their status is; and even if everybody's vaccinated indoors, it's not a bad idea to wear those masks just because we can't always be sure whether somebody might be incubating the virus. But it sounds to me like she's done everything she should, and thank you for your call.

Bill Walsh: All right, thank you very much. Jesse, let's go back to the lines. Who do we have next?

Jesse Salinas: Our next question is actually going to be from Facebook, and it's going to be, “If I had the Johnson & Johnson originally, and the Moderna booster, am I protected as somebody who got the full Moderna?”

Bill Walsh: Dr. Collins, you were just addressing this. Do you want to pick that one up as well?

Francis Collins: Yeah, clearly this is a question a lot of people have. And by the way, two of my grandchildren got J&J. So they're asking me this all the time, too. If you were originally immunized with J&J and then you got boosted with Moderna or Pfizer, you should be in  very good shape there to be fully protected as best we can do right now with the existing vaccines.

Bill Walsh: OK, thanks very much. Let's take another question. Jesse, who do we have next on the line?

Jesse Salinas: One more from Facebook, Bill. We've got Diane, who's asking, “What is the newest update on vaccinations for children?” She wants to see her grandchildren, and she's worried about them.

Bill Walsh: Dr. Walensky, do you want to give us the guidance on vaccines for children?

Rochelle Walensky: Yeah, that would be terrific. We have just … approved, or authorized I should say, the FDA has authorized, and we have recommended vaccines down to the age of 5. And we now have over 7 million shots and really 4, 5 million children who have been vaccinated between the ages of 5 to 11. At today's advisory committee meeting, we reviewed the data of the first 7 million children, shots that have been given to children between the ages of 5 to 11, and the safety data were really, really compelling — and really demonstrated how safe these vaccines are in children between the ages of 5 and 11. Really the side effects have been sore arms, fatigue, low grade fevers. The side effects occur a day after the vaccine, and really don't limit these children very much at all. And they resolve relatively quickly. So that's really great news for the vaccines for kids down to the age of 5. Now we're still waiting for Pfizer to submit their data for ages down to 2, and then ultimately down to 6 months, and we're hoping … I don't have an official timeline on this, but I'm hoping soon after the first of the year.

Bill Walsh: That's great to hear. Thanks for those results, and we'll keep our ears open for any additional vaccines for even younger children. Thanks for all your questions, and we're going to get to more of those questions shortly. For the moment, let's turn back to our experts. Dr. Walensky, long-term care facilities have been hit especially hard by COVID-19 — accounting for some 186,000 deaths, which is nearly a quarter of the total. With the increased push to get more Americans boosted, what's the status of booster shots in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities? And how can families learn more about whether the residents and staff have been vaccinated or received a booster shot in these facilities?

Rochelle Walensky: This is a really important question because our long-term care facilities have been hit so very hard. As of Dec. 12, among those who've completed a vaccine series, almost 55 percent of nursing home residents, and just over 23 percent of our nursing home staff have received a booster shot. We have just released data that have demonstrated about our long-term care facilities, the important value of getting that booster shot. So what we've seen is … because we vaccinated our long-term care facility residents so early that we're starting to see that vaccine effectiveness of just the vaccine, if you haven't been boosted, how that vaccine effectiveness can wane. So we have this combination now of the potential for vaccine effectiveness waning, as well as the omicron variant, which is why we really need a boost right now in those residents. And so what our data have shown is that among those residents who've been boosted, there's a tenfold less likely risk of getting disease. So we now really have demonstrated the data that these boosts are working in our long-term care facility residents, and we're working hard with our pharmacy partners to get out and get folks boosted, and having pharmacy partners go into long-term care facilities to ensure that those residents have access to the booster.

Bill Walsh: OK, thanks very much for that. Dr. Collins, let me turn back to you. I wonder if you could step back for a moment and tell us how you think future public health policies are going to be shaped by this pandemic. What have we learned?

Francis Collins: We've learned a lot, and one of the things we've learned is that we had let our public health system in the United States become underfunded and under-supported. And so when hit with a pandemic of this sort, it was really challenging for all those state health departments and the remarkable heroic people who work there, to try to manage what were incredibly rapid and urgent demands. We must not make that mistake again. Dr. Walensky is the head of the CDC, and all of those state health departments deserve, for the future, to have the kind of support that's going to be necessary so that we're better prepared for things of this sort. We are also, from a research perspective, from what we've learned this time, recognizing that we may as well go ahead and start preparing for some future pandemic. We have a pretty good idea of which families of viruses might be involved the next time, certainly influenza would be one of them. Then maybe there are ways that we could do some of the early steps of preparation, even if we don't need them, in order to be really quick in responding. That being said, I want to point out that the response of the scientific community to COVID-19 is absolutely historic to have gone from the recognition of the existence of this virus on Jan. 10, 2020, to having two vaccines approved by the FDA for emergency use in 11 months — [and] is about five times faster than has ever happened in the history of the planet. And the scientific community, all those folks that I work with in both academic centers in the government and in industry, just absolutely pulled out the stops, didn't worry about who got credit or what needed to be done; they just did it. And by the way, we're talking about all the terrible tragedies of what's happened with this. I just saw a report two days ago that we all ought to think about for a minute, that the existence of those vaccines a year ago, which is when they first were approved, and the opportunity for people to take advantage of them, have in the United States saved over 1 million lives. Think about that: 1 million people are alive today because of those vaccines and more than 10 million hospitalizations were prevented. So we have done a lot. We're in a much better place than we were a year ago, but we're not done yet. So we have to be consistent and persistent here, and be patient as we work out the rest of the details to try to ultimately drive this COVID-19 pandemic back into the history books.

Bill Walsh: Well, let's talk about history for a second. You anticipated my next question, and you noted that the COVID vaccines were made publicly available exactly one year ago this week. Now polio and whooping cough and measles and mumps and chickenpox have been nearly eradicated through vaccines. Among these achievements, how do COVID-19 vaccines compare?

Francis Collins: Well, they are remarkably safe and effective. When they were being developed, I think most of us were kind of hoping maybe they would be like 70 or 75 percent effective. When the results of those trials were announced a little over a year ago, when the answer was 95 percent, many vaccines don't come close to that. The flu vaccine is not as good as that, although we still believe in it, and also remarkably safe. So we ended up with an outcome that was an answer to prayer where science had really risen to the occasion. And we have these tools in the toolbox to basically tackle this worst pandemic in more than a century. Now as we all know, it didn't turn out to be quite as much of a victory as we might've hoped, and there were a lot of challenges there in terms of misinformation about the vaccines, which persists to this day. So that still, more than 50 million Americans have yet to get their first vaccine dose. And I worry about those individuals every day because omicron is coming, even though we know that these vaccines are safe and effective, they don't help you if they're not in your arm. And there's a lot of people who are still really vulnerable; I hadn't expected that that was going to be such a problem. That didn't happen with polio, did it? That didn't happen with childhood vaccines. For various reasons where maybe it's partly because our society has become so divided about everything, we've ended up in a circumstance where conspiracies and rumors and false claims have scared people. If people are listening tonight who've heard those things or worried about them, are not sure whether these vaccines were rushed or whether they cause problems like infertility, look at the data. These are incredibly safe. They weren't rushed to the extent that they caused any cutting of corners at all. I know — I was in the middle of all that. They don't cause infertility, and they don't have a lot of these other things that you might have heard about on the social media circuit. If you haven't yet taken advantage of this life-saving intervention, please think about that, because today something like 1,300 people died from COVID-19 — and most of them were unvaccinated and most of those deaths didn't need to happen.

Bill Walsh: Yeah, preventable deaths. Thanks so much, Dr. Collins. Dr. Walensky, we've been talking a lot about boosters and vaccines. I want to talk a little bit about treatments for COVID. Now the FDA may soon grant emergency use authorization for Merck's oral home treatment for mild to moderate COVID-19, and a second antiviral drug from Pfizer could soon follow. Are these antivirals a substitute for vaccines?

Rochelle Walensky: This is a really important question. So two new drugs, the Merck drug called molnupiravir, and the Pfizer drug called Paxlovid, and … we will be hearing more about those I think in the weeks ahead. The first thing I want to say is the best way to be sure that you have a really good outcome is to prevent disease entirely. And the best way to do that is to get vaccinated and then to get boosted. So that is always our first line of defense. Prevent the disease entirely. There are these new drugs that are coming. They will be a really important tool in our toolbox. … The important thing to know about both of these drugs: They work differently, they prevent hospitalizations, and adverse outcomes if you were to get COVID and you have high risk of severe disease. But the important thing to know is you have to know about your symptoms early. You have to know you have COVID really early for these drugs to work their best. So if you have symptoms and you think you might have COVID, go get your test early and present yourself to a clinician, a health care provider early so that should these drugs be authorized, that they will be available to you early in your disease course to prevent hospitalization.

Bill Walsh: Great, thanks for that. Now it's time to address more of your questions with Dr. Rochelle Walensky and Dr. Francis Collins. Jesse, let's go back to the lines. Who do we have up next?

Jesse Salinas: Yeah, I had a follow-up question, Bill, on Facebook about the holiday time. “If I want my family to take a COVID test before coming over for the holidays, does it recognize the omicron variant?”

Bill Walsh: Well, that's a timely question. Dr. Collins, can you address that?

Francis Collins: That is a totally timely question. And of course, omicron has just arrived in the U.S., so we have very little experience so far of testing for it with these home tests. But actually, a whole team that works with NIH and FDA is probably working tonight to try to answer that question. The differences in between omicron and the original virus, in the area where the home tests work, are not particularly large, but we want to be sure. So stay tuned. We should have a better answer to that in the next two or three days.

Bill Walsh: Very good. Thank you for that. Jesse, who do we have next?

Jesse Salinas: The next question is going to come from Denise in Washington.

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

Denise: OK, thank you. Thank you, doctors, for all the work you're doing. My question is, I am fully vaccinated and I have the possibility that I may have to take a flight, about an hour flight, to help care for my 90-year-old father who is fully vaccinated. However, two of the people that live in the household are not vaccinated. So I'm wondering, first of all, it is foolhardy to do? And second of all, is there something I can do to try and stay as safe as possible while I'm caring for my father for about two weeks?

Bill Walsh: Thanks for that question. Dr. Walensky, CDC has put out a lot of guidance on travel. Can you address this question?

Rochelle Walensky: There are lots of things I think in that picture that we could encourage you to do. First of all, if it's possible to try and get your booster before you go, if you're eligible for your booster, six months out of an mRNA vaccine, then I would absolutely encourage you to get your booster as soon as possible before you travel. If you can get your father his booster, that would be great, too. We really do want to make sure that people who are at highest risk of disease — and I think that would include your 90-year-old father — would get a booster. I would really encourage that the people who are caring for him, that you work to get them vaccinated, and that may just be listening to them and understanding what their concerns are, and providing them information, providing them resources, providing them phone numbers that they are their trusted sources, so they feel comfortable getting vaccinated. Because if they are not vaccinated, that puts your father at risk of disease. And then finally, if folks are not vaccinated and they're out and about, you may want to have them wear a mask as they're taking care of your dad. For yourself, as you're getting on the plane, we're certainly recommending that people in all areas of transport are wearing masks the entire time. So do so during your travels. And of course, if you're in public indoor settings during your travels, to remain masked in those settings.

Bill Walsh: Dr. Walensky, let me follow up on that. You talked about a situation where you might encounter people, members of your family actually, who are not vaccinated. Do you have any advice for how to talk to folks who aren't vaccinated to encourage them to get the shot without being confrontational?

Rochelle Walensky: Bill, I think this is a really important question. And when people ask, how do I talk to them? The answer is more, I listen. Because you know, oftentimes you can, there's generally common ground. I think we all agree we want to be safe, we all agree we want this pandemic to be over, we all agree that we don't want any of our loved ones harmed. So the real question is what's getting in your way? Why have you chosen when there's been so much data out there and so much safety out there, and data that, you know, you're 14 times more likely to pass away from COVID if you're unvaccinated. With all those data out there, what's stopped you? And then start to have a dialogue — and sometimes it's more than one conversation. Sometimes it's, well, who have you talked to? Have you talked to people who've been vaccinated? Have you talked to people about your concerns? And to try and have multiple conversations to lead folks to understand what their challenges are and why they've decided, made that decision, to see if you can lead them to a better place.

Bill Walsh: Great. Thank you so much for that. Jesse, let's go back to the lines. Who do we have next?

Jesse Salinas: Yeah, we're getting a lot of questions on social media, Bill. I've got a question from Mike on Facebook and he's saying, “Are we any closer to herd immunity in the U.S., and does that even matter?”

Bill Walsh: Hmm, herd immunity. It's something we've heard about for a long time. Dr. Collins, can you shed any light on that?

Francis Collins: Well, I'll try. It's certainly a term that has gotten a lot of people confused, and it's challenging with the virus like this one, which keeps changing its coat. If we had somehow been able to control the original virus out of Wuhan, China, so that it didn't have an opportunity to mutate and turn into alpha and beta and delta, and now omicron, then herd immunity would make more sense, because you'd just be facing one particular enemy. But now we've got this whole army of different versions of SARS-CoV-2, and it's pretty clear that your immunity against one doesn't completely convey over to the next. It is clear, however, that the higher proportion of the population that has gotten vaccinated, and especially if they've gotten boosted, or if they've gotten infected naturally that they got vaccinated on top of that, if you can get that up to something like 90 percent, then all the models would say that starts to look like herd immunity, that starts to make the virus lose its grip and no longer be able to continue to hold the parties that it's holding now all over the place. We are way short of that. As much as we've tried in this country to get immunizations into arms, there's only about 60 percent of our population that is fully immunized, that has had the full two doses of Pfizer or Moderna, or one of J&J, so we're way short of whatever that magic threshold might be. We're still not quite sure where it is, but we know we're not at it.

Bill Walsh: All right, thanks very much. Jesse, who do we have up next?

Jesse Salinas: I'm going to take one more from Facebook. This is Jodelle, who says, “My husband and I have had COVID early … but we'd been long-haulers in having those kinds of issues. Is there research being done on long-hauler problems? And what are their remedies, if any?

Bill Walsh: Dr. Collins, you are our research expert. Can you address a long-haul COVID and what's being looked at there?

Francis Collins: I'm glad the question was posed because this is a really important issue, and it's one more reason to get vaccinated and boosted because you don't want long COVID, either. And this happens to some proportion of people who've had the original acute illness, and they just don't get better the way you'd expect over the course of a couple of weeks. Some significant fraction, four or five, six weeks later are still suffering — some of them from fatigue; some of them talk about brain fog, where it's just a little cloudy in terms of your ability to think clearly, which makes it hard to do your job or take care of your family or be in school. We don't understand the mechanism by which this virus can cause those kinds of long-term symptoms, but they are clearly very common and very real. At NIH, we have mounted a large scale study of 40,000 people to try to really dig deeply into understanding what's causing this, how to prevent it, and then how to treat those people who are suffering from it, because right now we don't really know enough to know what to try, and that's going to be a big push in the coming months. And we are certainly encouraged by how many people were willing to sign up for that kind of study and allow us to learn from them so that ultimately, we can lick this one, because this is a really serious and unexpected kind of long tale of the way in which COVID-19 is affecting us.

Bill Walsh: I wonder if the antiviral drugs that Dr. Walensky was just talking about have shown any effectiveness for long-haul symptoms?

Francis Collins: I don't think we have any data yet in that situation. And that is a very important thing to look at. There are people with long-haul or long COVID who after they get vaccinated have had significant improvement in their symptoms, suggesting that maybe they still have a lingering illness with the virus hiding somewhere in their system even though we can't find it. But I don't know what will happen with antiviral drugs. That will be a very interesting thing to try once we know that it's appropriate to do so.

Bill Walsh: OK, thank you very much. Jesse, who do we have next?

Jesse Salinas: We're going to take Teresa from Arkansas.

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

Teresa: Thank you. My question is for my 98-year-old mother — I'm her caregiver. Back in March she got the COVID, and we waited until June 18 to give her the first Pfizer vaccine. And the second one was done on July 9 with Pfizer. My question is, do you still wait six months for the booster, and should we continue with the Pfizer booster, or do you recommend any other?

Bill Walsh: That's a great question. Let's have Dr. Rochelle Walensky answer. Dr. Walensky?

Rochelle Walensky: I'd be happy to. I'm glad your mom did OK after her bout of COVID. And what I would say is right now our recommendations are to wait that six months, so she's almost there, and so she should be getting her booster pretty close to that six-month mark, and as soon as you can there. And then what I would say on which one you get — if she did well with her two Pfizer shots, I would say, go ahead and get that third shot as Pfizer. We really don't have a strong recommendation as to which one she gets, but if she did well with her first two, there's no reason to change.

Bill Walsh: OK, thanks very much for that. Jesse, who do we have next on the line?

Jesse Salinas: Our next caller is Elizabeth from California.

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

Elizabeth: Thank you very much for your participation. I have a question about home testing. I was wondering if there's any kind of home testing you'd recommend and brand, and also do you have any information about the free home test?

Bill Walsh: Dr. Collins, do you want to address that? Home testing?

Francis Collins: Sure. So the home tests that you can get in the pharmacy or online have all been reviewed by the FDA and have been granted emergency use authorization. So that means that you know that they have appropriate sensitivity to give you a trustworthy answer. The most commonly used ones that you might see out there — the Abbott, BinaxNOW, the Quidel QuickVue, the one called Ellume — they all perform really well. I mentioned earlier, we're making sure that they will work with omicron as well, but I'm pretty optimistic they will. So all of those are good. Now you asked about free home testing. We are running at NIH a pilot project in about nine places to see how would that work if you made it possible for people in a community that has a particularly high risk of COVID-19 to basically order online home tests and have them delivered free to their house the next day by Amazon, and that does seem to be something people are really interested in. So we're considering what to do next about that. Obviously, that would be a big national investment in terms of the cost, but it might make sense given how this pandemic is continuing to cause so much trouble across our nation.

Bill Walsh: Thanks for that. Jesse, let's take another caller.

Jesse Salinas: We're going to take Tony from North Carolina.

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

Tony: Hi, thank you for having me. My question is for the CDC or the researchers that are in a position to know what's the end game of all this? At some point, is it going to be over or are we going to yearly have to take these injections? Because I had read a while back that the Spanish flu that killed so many people had mutated to a point that it no longer affected us. I was just wondering, is there an end, end game in sight?

Bill Walsh: Dr. Walensky, I wonder if you could weigh in on that? Maybe Dr. Collins, you want to have a word as well.

Rochelle Walensky: Tony, we are, we are with you. We very much are interested in seeing how … we can get this to the end game. So a few things; one is we'd really like to get to the end game where we have enough immune protection in the entire population, that people are no longer severely impacted by any of the variants. And we do that either because people are getting infected or because they're vaccinated. We'd, of course, love to do it through vaccination so that we don't have severe adverse outcomes from the disease itself. And I do think that once we have enough of that immune protection, that we will eventually have less and less severe outcomes of disease, we'll reach a level where we have less and less disease in general. In terms of a question about will we keep needing these vaccine boosters? We don't have the science yet to inform that, but what I will say is that we have many vaccines out there that require one dose, a second dose a month later, and a dose at six months. For example, our hepatitis B vaccines have that kind of series. So there are examples of vaccines out there where you do need that boost for the long-term immune protection, but you don't need a frequent shot every year like you do the flu shot. So that is something that we are going to continue to have the science help inform, but it's not necessarily a given that we're going to have to be there.

Bill Walsh: Dr. Collins, did you want to weigh in?

Francis Collins: Dr. Walensky has it exactly right, in terms of what we need to do to try to maximize the chances of driving this virus away. Let me just add one other thing though, and that is that unless we get the rest of the planet also immunized, the virus will continue to have its parties, and it will in the process develop additional variants that could emerge again to give us a challenge. So we have from self-interest, enlightened self-interest, a really serious commitment to making sure that the rest of the planet also has a chance to get immunized; and going beyond that, I think many of us who think of all of those peoples in those countries, they're our family, too. We ought to be doing everything we can to try to provide them with this kind of protection that we now have for free here in this country. The United States has done more than all the other countries of the world combined to make vaccine doses available to people in low- and middle-income countries. Now over a billion are committed and about 300 million have already been shipped, and we need to continue to do that because the true end of COVID-19 won't readily come if there's still lots of places where the virus can continue to spread because people haven't had a chance yet to get vaccinated. This isn't in our best interest.

Rochelle Walensky: That's absolutely right. And the saying, “No one is safe until we're all safe.”

Bill Walsh: OK, thank you both for that. And Dr. Collins, you were just speaking about endings. You've had a distinguished career in public service to Americans under three presidents, you led the Human Genome Project and are a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient. You recently announced that you'll be stepping down tomorrow, your last day at the National Institutes of Health. What's next for you?

Francis Collins: Well, 12 years is a long time to serve in this role. It's been an incredible privilege, but I think scientific organizations need new vision and new leadership. And so the president is going to have a chance to appoint a terrific person to step in and be the next leader. And NIH is in very strong position right now to continue the fight against COVID-19 and all these other things like cancer and diabetes and heart disease that we are the main supporter of research for — for the whole world. So I'm incredibly fortunate to have played this role. I'm going to step back into my research lab and work on diabetes, which is an area that I think is ripe for some major advances, as well as a rare disease that causes premature aging called progeria, where I think we have a chance with gene therapy perhaps to help, and maybe even cure these children who suffer from this condition. It's going to be interesting. I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do when I grow up. I'm going to figure that out over the course of the next year.

Bill Walsh: All right. Well, good luck with that. And thank you both for being with us tonight and answering all of our questions. This has been a really informative discussion. And thank you, our AARP members, volunteers and listeners for participating in this discussion. 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. Now all of the resources referenced here today, including a recording of the Q&A event, can be found at aarp.org/coronavirus on Dec. 17. Again, that web address is aarp.org/coronavirus. Go there if your question was not addressed, and you will 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 tune in for our next live coronavirus event in January of 2022. AARP wishes you all a happy and safe holiday season. 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 virtual town hall in Spanish, press *0 on your telephone keypad now.

[00:00:17] [Española]

[00:00:18] 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 the global coronavirus pandemic, AARP is providing information and resources to help older adults and those caring for them. As we reflect on what has been a really challenging 2021 and prepare for the new year, we're filled with both hope and concern. While more than 87 percent of people 65 and older are fully vaccinated and boosters are widely available, there is increasing uncertainty with the emergence of the omicron variant. As we approach two years in the COVID-19 pandemic, the question has become, will this ever end? And, of course, Americans have immediate concerns about staying safe and staying healthy as they prepare to gather with loved ones for the holidays.

[00:01:18] Tonight we'll hear from two top experts about these issues and more. If you've participated in one of our virtual town halls before, you know that this is similar to a talk show, and you have the opportunity to ask your questions live. For those of you joining us on the phone, if you'd like to ask a question about the coronavirus pandemic, 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. …

[00:01:53] We have two special guests joining us this evening, including the directors of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health. We'll also be joined by my AARP colleague Jesse Salinas, 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.

[00:02:51] Now I'd like to welcome our guests. Rochelle P. Walensky, M.D, is the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Welcome back to the program, Dr. Walensky.

[00:03:04] Rochelle Walensky: I'm delighted to be here and especially glad to be here with Dr. Collins. Thank you to AARP for inviting me to participate. And to you, Francis, as you step down from 12 years, 12 incredible years as director of NIH, please let me share my appreciation for the work you have done and will continue to do to change and save lives. Thank you.

[00:03:26] Bill Walsh: All right. And thank you very much for being with us. Francis S. Collins, M.D., is the director of the National Institutes of Health. Welcome back to the program, Dr. Collins.

[00:03:37] Francis Collins: I am glad and to be with you, and I am also very glad to do this program with Dr. Walensky, who is such a remarkable leader, our nation's chief public health officer who has done so much in the course of these very difficult two years of COVID-19 to get the information out there and to be sure that everything's being done to help people. And I hope we're going to have a chance to answer a lot of questions tonight, but it's really a privilege in my last three days before I step down as NIH director, to spend time with all of you.

[00:04:07] Bill Walsh: I'm glad we got you on the program before you stepped down. Let's go ahead and get started with our discussion … Dr. Walensky, let's start with you. The president recently outlined new plans to address the pandemic. What's changed, and why were those changes needed?

[00:04:33] Rochelle Walensky: So, as the United States heads into the winter months and sees the emergence of a new variant, the omicron variant, early in December, President Biden announced nine new actions to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Now omicron currently accounts for about 3 percent of all COVID cases and has been detected now in 38 states, as well as in Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. The president recognizes, we all recognize that we can't be complacent in this moment. And so his new plan includes ensuring nearly 100 million eligible Americans who have not yet gotten their booster shot, get one as soon as possible; improving access to free at-home testing, and strengthening it; strengthening international travel protocols. Now these steps are necessary because COVID-19 has not slowed, and we are again seeing an increase in cases and hospitalizations, and we're seeing about 1,100 deaths now per day. We cannot, I cannot be in a position where that's OK. Vaccination is our way out of this pandemic, and our vaccines are protecting people from COVID-19. They're slowing transmission, and they're reducing the likelihood that new variants emerge. Right now over 200 million Americans are fully vaccinated, and over 55 million Americans have already received their booster dose. Everyone over 16 should get a booster as soon as they are eligible. If you received either the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine doses, you're eligible for a booster shot six months after your second dose. If you received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you're eligible for a booster two months after receiving your single Johnson & Johnson dose. So getting vaccinated and getting a booster dose, if you're eligible, are really right now the most important actions you can take to protect yourself and those around you.

[00:06:34] Bill Walsh: Thanks so much for that, Dr. Walensky. Dr. Collins, let's turn to you. Why is the omicron variant so worrying? What protections do the current vaccines offer against it? And does it mean, as the Pfizer CEO said last week, that an additional vaccine dose will be needed soon?

[00:06:53] Francis Collins: So we're all getting used to the Greek alphabet, aren't we? We keep seeing variants arising from this original virus, SARS-CoV-2, which was first identified in Wuhan, China. But over the course of time, each time the virus has a chance to copy itself, once in a while, it makes a mistake and most of those are harmful to the virus, but occasionally they provide it with some advantages. And so new variants emerge. Alpha, beta, delta, gamma, and now omicron. Omicron is concerning in particular because it has a very large number of differences, mutations as we call them, in its instruction book, which means that it's kind of a different virus than what we've been dealt, dealing with before. I mean, it's still related, it's still part of the same family, but it has enough differences that people have worried a lot about whether the vaccinations that we've all been counting on are going to protect us against omicron. So here's the data. The data says that in fact, if you've had two doses of Pfizer or two doses of Moderna, you do have some protection against omicron, but it's not as good as you might like. It's not as good as it was against the original virus. The good news, though, is that a booster, which you are eligible for as Dr. Walensky just outlined, most people who've had, the original immunization are eligible for a booster, the booster gives you a much better protection against omicron up in the space of 80 percent or so. And that's really an encouraging finding, and it says that we don't at the moment really need a separate vaccine that's specifically designed against omicron. The vaccines we've got right now are actually capable of providing protection, but you need that booster. Now, I know we're talking to AARP, and I'm a member, basically most people over 65 have gotten the original vaccines because they've understood that this is a virus that is particularly dangerous for older people, but a lot of them haven't yet gotten a booster. So people listening tonight, if there's one message I hope you will go away from is, if you haven't yet gotten that booster, if you've been putting it off or you weren't quite sure if you needed it, this is the moment to get that arranged because omicron is going to be a real challenge for all of us, and the booster is your best protection. Go to vaccines.gov, or if you have a cell phone just [text your zip code to] 438829 … and it will tell you where is the closest place to you that has vaccines ready to deliver. And don't wait. Get your booster the next few days. It'll be the best Christmas present you could give to yourself.

[00:09:42] Bill Walsh: Great advice. Thank you, Dr. Collins. Dr. Walensky, let's turn back to you. Our listeners continue to ask us if there are circumstances under which they don't need to get, or shouldn't get, a vaccine or a booster. Are there specific ailments or preexisting conditions that would preclude people from getting a vaccine or booster?

[00:10:04] Rochelle Walensky: Thank you for that question. And the short answer is no, but COVID-19 vaccines, whether it's your primary vaccination series or a booster dose, are recommended for and can be administered to really most people with underlying medical conditions including cancer, HIV, chronic kidney disease, and liver disease, diabetes and pregnancy. And in fact, it's generally the case that those with those underlying conditions are especially the ones who need the boosters themselves. Everyone over the age of 5, including immunocompromised people, should receive a COVID-19 vaccine primary series, as soon as possible. People who are immunocompromised are especially vulnerable to COVID-19, so those are the ones you absolutely want to make sure we get boosted, and adults of any age with certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness from the virus that causes COVID-19. Exceptions to this are really exceptionally rare. And if you think you have one, you should consult with your health care provider for advice about your specific situation, but generally the rule is, there are very few people who shouldn't get a COVID-19 vaccine or booster.

[00:11:15] Bill Walsh: OK, thank you very much for that. Let me follow up. Talking about vaccines, what can you tell us, Dr. Walensky, about the recommendation from the CDC advisers today to choose Pfizer and/or Moderna vaccines instead of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?

[00:11:35] Rochelle Walensky: Thank you for that question. This news is just as of today. So today the CDC endorsed updated recommendations made from the Advisory Committee on Immunization practices, that's our vaccine advisory committee, for the prevention of COVID-19, and we expressed a clinical preference for individuals to receive an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine over a Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. Now the advisory committee's unanimous recommendation followed a really robust scientific discussion on the latest evidence on vaccine effectiveness, vaccine safety, and very rare adverse events, and consideration of a very robust U.S. vaccine supply. So the supply of mRNA vaccines is abundant in this country with nearly 100 million doses in the field right now for immediate use. And so this updated CDC recommendation follows similar recommendations that we've seen from other countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom. Now, the one thing I want to say is if you've previously gotten a Johnson & Johnson vaccine, that's great. I'm glad you got vaccinated, and if you're two months out of that, you should go ahead and get boosted. But given the current state of the pandemic right here and around the world, the ACIP really reaffirmed that receiving any vaccine is better than being unvaccinated, and that's likely what happened whenever it is you got that first dose. But individuals who are unable or unwilling to receive an mRNA vaccine should continue to have access to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

[00:13:05] Bill Walsh: Thanks so much for that, Dr. Walensky. Dr. Collins, you know so many Americans had dreams of travel or time with loved ones delayed or dashed by this pandemic. What words of encouragement can you offer? And what advice do you have for people visiting relatives this holiday season?

[00:13:22] Francis Collins: Well, I know people are so tired of COVID-19, believe me, I am too tired of recommendations about things that you can't do, but unfortunately, this virus is a wily virus, and it is not giving up its attack on us. And in fact, as you have heard, the number of cases has been going up in the course of the last few weeks, most of these from delta, and then we have omicron that we're sort of looking back over our shoulder and seeing it coming and probably will be the dominant viral variant in the United States in the coming weeks. So it's not a time to relax and let up your guard, but let me be clear. We do now have vaccines. We didn't have those a year ago when we were talking about the holidays, and we, therefore, in a circumstance where people have gotten vaccinated, have gotten boosted, have a certain level of protection against what's happening, but still, I would say if you're traveling on the holidays, be very careful about not gathering in indoor spaces with other people whose vaccination status is unknown. And certainly, you should be wearing a mask indoors according to CDC's guidelines, because that's not just a little bit of protecting yourself, you're protecting other people against the fact that you might be infected without knowing it even if you have been vaccinated. Again, I think people, if they're careful about this, can manage to have these kinds of holiday gatherings, but best to keep them on the modest size and be sure that everybody around you has their vaccination status established. All the gatherings that I am considering going to over the holidays, basically, they're saying, if you're not vaccinated, we'll see you another time. And I can see why that is. And some are even saying, even if you are vaccinated and boosted, why don't you get a test the day before you come to our party. That's not required, but that is something a lot of people are starting to think about as just an added level of safety.

[00:15:21] Bill Walsh: Thank you, Dr. Collins for that. We're going to get to [your] live questions soon, but before we do, I want to bring in Nancy LeaMond. Nancy is the executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer here at AARP. Welcome, Nancy, it's nice to have you with us.

[00:15:42] Nancy LeaMond: HI, Bill. Great to be here. Thanks for having me.

[00:15:44] Bill Walsh: Now you've been providing us updates about critical legislation pending on Capitol Hill that would benefit older Americans. What's the latest?

[00:15:53] Nancy LeaMond: Well, the House and Senate were both in session this week, and we are continuing our advocacy on the Build Back Better Act, which of course still needs to clear the Senate. In terms of what's new, in the last couple of hours we've had reports from both the White House and the Congress that indicates that the Build Back Better debate is going to move into the new year. Now make no mistake, AARP will keep fighting to make sure key provisions and priorities remain in the bill — the main one being provisions to help lower prescription drug prices. American families simply can't afford to keep paying the highest prices in the world. It's time for Congress to allow Medicare to negotiate some drug costs and take other steps to reign in big pharma. We're closer than we've ever been, and we're doing all we can to see it through. We're also advocating for adding hearing coverage to Medicare, paid leave, and other policies that would be enormously beneficial for older adults.

[00:16:59] Bill Walsh: The New York Times reported this week that the U.S. has surpassed 800,000 COVID related deaths, and almost three-quarters of those were people ages 65 and older. I mean, it's hard to imagine, but one of every 100 older Americans has now died from the virus.

[00:17:18] Nancy LeaMond: It is hard to imagine that the depth of this tragedy is just unfathomable. COVID is now the third leading cause of death among 65-plus behind heart disease and cancer. We've lost too many lives, and with almost 1,200 Americans still dying of COVID every day we must remain in the fight. We have to do all we can to keep everyone safe. Too many people have empty chairs around their tables this holiday season, and our hearts go out to everyone who has lost someone.

[00:17:51] Bill Walsh: Nancy, we've done many of these virtual town halls together and since the pandemic began. Coming to the end of 2021, is there anything that gives you cause for optimism?

[00:18:01] Nancy LeaMond: Well, it's uncertain as things are. We do have an awful lot to be thankful for. Remember this time last year, we weren't sure when COVID vaccines would be widely available, and now, according to CDC, you heard from Dr. Walensky earlier, 87 percent of adults 65 and older are fully vaccinated, and more than 54 million Americans have received an additional booster dose in the last few months. With so much information and misinformation out there, AARP is focused on being a trusted resource for the 50-plus and their families, and I'm proud that we've connected thousands of people to experts and credible information, we've helped folks make vaccine appointments, and in some communities we provided free rides for people to get their shots. But the pandemic isn't over, and we must stay vigilant and continue to support each other through this.

[00:18:57] Bill Walsh: All right. Thanks for that, Nancy. Any parting thoughts?

[00:19:00] Nancy LeaMond: I want to wish everyone a healthy and happy holiday season from AARP. Please get vaccinated and get your booster shot if you haven't already. This virus, as we've heard again tonight, is so dangerous for those who are older, and we're not out of the woods yet. Be well, stay safe, everyone, and of course, please turn to AARP for information or questions down the line.

[00:19:27] Bill Walsh: All right, thanks so much, Nancy. Thanks for being with us today. It's now time to address your questions about the coronavirus with Dr. Rochelle Walensky and Dr. Francis Collins. … Now, I'd like to bring in my AARP colleague Jesse Salinas to help facilitate your calls this evening. Welcome, Jesse.

[00:20:04] Jesse Salinas: I'm glad to be here, Bill.

[00:20:05] Bill Walsh: All right, who is our first caller?

[00:20:08] Jesse Salinas: Our first caller is actually going to be from social media, from YouTube, and it's from Dennis Cleary, and he says, "Is it wise to go to a family Christmas? I'm vaccinated and boostered."

[00:20:18] Bill Walsh: Dr. Collins, you were just talking about gathering during the holidays. What can you tell our listener?

[00:20:24] Francis Collins: A lot depends about who else is coming to the family Christmas. I'm glad the caller is already vaccinated and boosted, which means he has pretty good protection against infection, but it's not absolute. And so, again, for maximum benefits of the kinds of procedures that are going to keep us all healthy, I would say it would be best to find out if the other people coming to the gathering are also vaccinated and boosted. And if not, then one really ought to think about whether you want to be together indoors for a long period of time, or whether you should be wearing masks when you're there. Of course, that's really hard if you're going to have a big Christmas dinner — you can't have your mask on then. I would just say as a means of caution right now because this virus is still with us, serious consideration might be given by the caller about whether you want to attend a circumstance where other people in the room have not been vaccinated because that places everybody at risk.

[00:21:20] Bill Walsh: OK, thanks so much for that. Jesse, let's go back to the lines. Who do we have next?

[00:21:24] Jesse Salinas: Our next caller is going to be Carol from Minnesota.

[00:21:27] Bill Walsh: Hey, Carol, welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question.

[00:21:32] Carol: Yes, my question is for people that have not been vaccinated and then got … COVID and got over it, is there a protocol for them then to get vaccinated? And if there is, how long should they wait?

[00:21:53] Bill Walsh: Dr. Walensky, can you field that question?

[00:21:55] Rochelle Walensky: Absolutely, Carol. Thank you for that question. We have received many questions just like that. We are absolutely recommending that people who have been previously infected still get the full vaccine series. And so if you've been previously infected in the last month or two, you may want to wait a month or so, but if you've been previously infected more than a month ago, then I would say, get started on a vaccine series now. But what we know, as Dr. Collins was saying, is that the current omicron variant has a lot of mutations, and because it has so many mutations, we may need quite a bit more immune protection against this variant. So you have some protection because you've been previously exposed, but we're still recommending that even if you've had the disease before, that you bolster your protection especially against the omicron variant with a full vaccine series.

[00:22:48] Bill Walsh: OK, thanks very much. Jesse, who's next?

[00:22:52] Jesse Salinas: Our next caller is going to be Pat from New York.

[00:22:55] Bill Walsh: Hey, Pat, welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question.

[00:22:59] Pat: My question is, if you have received all three of the Pfizer's shots — now, my husband and I received our booster last August — is it still going to be as viable to fight the virus now during the winter months?

[00:23:15] Bill Walsh: What about that, Dr. Walensky? What is the long-term impact of these vaccines? How long do they protect us?

[00:23:22] Rochelle Walensky: So if you've been boosted, that is our current recommendation, and I wouldn't say that you need anything more, right at this moment. We're actively studying how well our boosters work, not only for the delta variant, but also for the omicron variant, and we are anticipating that they're going to work well. How well they work overtime is still a matter of data that is emerging, but we have no further recommendations for any more vaccines for you right now. So good for you for getting boosted, and we will continue to follow that science and give more recommendations as that science evolves.

[00:23:54] Bill Walsh: Thank you very much. Jesse, who's next on the line?

[00:23:58] Jesse Salinas: Our next caller is going to be Mark from Minnesota.

[00:24:00] Bill Walsh: Hey, Mark, welcome to the program. Go ahead with your question.

[00:24:05] Mark: OK, I have a daughter who's 40. … She has special needs. She had her Johnson & Johnson back in March, the one-shot, and then Nov. 1 she had her booster … the Pfizer full- shot booster versus the half-shot Moderna. And so I'm wondering how effective her regimen is versus the three-shot regimen. And we're going to be going to the … I'm going to bring her to the Rose Parade in Pasadena on Jan. 1, and it's going to be outside, but I'm just wondering about the effectiveness of her regimen.

[00:24:59] Bill Walsh: Right, sure. Dr. Collins, would you take that one?

[00:25:02] Francis Collins: I'd be glad to. We actually at NIH tested this very question by looking to see if you could mix and match between your initial immunization series and the booster, what would happen. So that included the Pfizer, the Moderna and the J&J, and if you started with one of those, but you then boosted with any one of the other three, what happened? The good news was that basically with J&J, if you got boosted with Pfizer or Moderna, you ended up with very impressive antibody levels, very similar to what would have happened if you'd stuck with Pfizer or Moderna all along. So I think your daughter is in very good shape. She's gotten the booster. Again, because omicron is out there, and we know it's going to be capable of more breakthroughs, the idea of celebrating outdoors, like at the Rose Parade, sounds like a good idea. And if indoors, then wear the masks because you never know who is around you and what their status is; and even if everybody's vaccinated indoors, it's not a bad idea to wear those masks just because we can't always be sure whether somebody might be incubating the virus. But it sounds to me like she's done everything she should, and thank you for your call.

[00:26:14] Bill Walsh: All right, thank you very much. Jesse, let's go back to the lines. Who do we have next?

[00:26:19] Jesse Salinas: Our next question is actually going to be from Facebook, and it's going to be, “If I had the Johnson & Johnson originally, and the Moderna booster, am I protected as somebody who got the full Moderna?”

[00:26:32] Bill Walsh: Dr. Collins, you were just addressing this. Do you want to pick that one up as well?

[00:26:35] Francis Collins: Yeah, clearly this is a question a lot of people have. And by the way, two of my grandchildren got J&J. So they're asking me this all the time, too. If you were originally immunized with J&J and then you got boosted with Moderna or Pfizer, you should be in very good shape there to be fully protected as best we can do right now with the existing vaccines.

[00:26:56] Bill Walsh: OK, thanks very much. Let's take another question. Jesse, who do we have next on the line?

[00:27:01] Jesse Salinas: One more from Facebook, Bill. We've got Diane, who's asking, “What is the newest update on vaccinations for children?” She wants to see her grandchildren, and she's worried about them.

[00:27:10] Bill Walsh: Dr. Walensky, do you want to give us the guidance on vaccines for children?

[00:27:13] Rochelle Walensky: Yeah, that would be terrific. We have just … approved, or authorized I should say, the FDA has authorized, and we have recommended vaccines down to the age of 5. And we now have over 7 million shots and really 4, 5 million children who have been vaccinated between the ages of 5 to 11. At today's advisory committee meeting, we reviewed the data of the first 7 million children, shots that have been given to children between the ages of 5 to 11, and the safety data were really, really compelling — and really demonstrated how safe these vaccines are in children between the ages of 5 and 11. Really the side effects have been sore arms, fatigue, low grade fevers. The side effects occur a day after the vaccine, and really don't limit these children very much at all. And they resolve relatively quickly. So that's really great news for the vaccines for kids down to the age of 5. Now we're still waiting for Pfizer to submit their data for ages down to 2, and then ultimately down to 6 months, and we're hoping … I don't have an official timeline on this, but I'm hoping soon after the first of the year.

[00:28:25] Bill Walsh: That's great to hear. Thanks for those results, and we'll keep our ears open for any additional vaccines for even younger children. Thanks for all your questions, and we're going to get to more of those questions shortly. For the moment, let's turn back to our experts. Dr. Walensky, long-term care facilities have been hit especially hard by COVID-19 — accounting for some 186,000 deaths, which is nearly a quarter of the total. With the increased push to get more Americans boosted, what's the status of booster shots in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities? And how can families learn more about whether the residents and staff have been vaccinated or received a booster shot in these facilities?

[00:29:15] Rochelle Walensky: This is a really important question because our long-term care facilities have been hit so very hard. As of Dec. 12, among those who've completed a vaccine series, almost 55 percent of nursing home residents, and just over 23 percent of our nursing home staff have received a booster shot. We have just released data that have demonstrated about our long-term care facilities, the important value of getting that booster shot. So what we've seen is … because we vaccinated our long-term care facility residents so early that we're starting to see that vaccine effectiveness of just the vaccine, if you haven't been boosted, how that vaccine effectiveness can wane. So we have this combination now of the potential for vaccine effectiveness waning, as well as the omicron variant, which is why we really need a boost right now in those residents. And so what our data have shown is that among those residents who've been boosted, there's a tenfold less likely risk of getting disease. So we now really have demonstrated the data that these boosts are working in our long-term care facility residents, and we're working hard with our pharmacy partners to get out and get folks boosted, and having pharmacy partners go into long-term care facilities to ensure that those residents have access to the booster.

[00:30:37] Bill Walsh: OK, thanks very much for that. Dr. Collins, let me turn back to you. I wonder if you could step back for a moment and tell us how you think future public health policies are going to be shaped by this pandemic. What have we learned?

[00:30:52] Francis Collins: We've learned a lot, and one of the things we've learned is that we had let our public health system in the United States become underfunded and under-supported. And so when hit with a pandemic of this sort, it was really challenging for all those state health departments and the remarkable heroic people who work there, to try to manage what were incredibly rapid and urgent demands. We must not make that mistake again. Dr. Walensky is the head of the CDC, and all of those state health departments deserve, for the future, to have the kind of support that's going to be necessary so that we're better prepared for things of this sort. We are also, from a research perspective, from what we've learned this time, recognizing that we may as well go ahead and start preparing for some future pandemic. We have a pretty good idea of which families of viruses might be involved the next time, certainly influenza would be one of them. Then maybe there are ways that we could do some of the early steps of preparation, even if we don't need them, in order to be really quick in responding. That being said, I want to point out that the response of the scientific community to COVID-19 is absolutely historic to have gone from the recognition of the existence of this virus on Jan. 10, 2020, to having two vaccines approved by the FDA for emergency use in 11 months — [and] is about five times faster than has ever happened in the history of the planet. And the scientific community, all those folks that I work with in both academic centers in the government and in industry, just absolutely pulled out the stops, didn't worry about who got credit or what needed to be done; they just did it. And by the way, we're talking about all the terrible tragedies of what's happened with this. I just saw a report two days ago that we all ought to think about for a minute, that the existence of those vaccines a year ago, which is when they first were approved, and the opportunity for people to take advantage of them, have in the United States saved over 1 million lives. Think about that: 1 million people are alive today because of those vaccines and more than 10 million hospitalizations were prevented. So we have done a lot. We're in a much better place than we were a year ago, but we're not done yet. So we have to be consistent and persistent here, and be patient as we work out the rest of the details to try to ultimately drive this COVID-19 pandemic back into the history books.

[00:33:23] Bill Walsh: Well, let's talk about history for a second. You anticipated my next question, and you noted that the COVID vaccines were made publicly available exactly one year ago this week. Now polio and whooping cough and measles and mumps and chickenpox have been nearly eradicated through vaccines. Among these achievements, how do COVID-19 vaccines compare?

[00:33:48] Francis Collins: Well, they are remarkably safe and effective. When they were being developed, I think most of us were kind of hoping maybe they would be like 70 or 75 percent effective. When the results of those trials were announced a little over a year ago, when the answer was 95 percent, many vaccines don't come close to that. The flu vaccine is not as good as that, although we still believe in it, and also remarkably safe. So we ended up with an outcome that was an answer to prayer where science had really risen to the occasion. And we have these tools in the toolbox to basically tackle this worst pandemic in more than a century. Now as we all know, it didn't turn out to be quite as much of a victory as we might've hoped, and there were a lot of challenges there in terms of misinformation about the vaccines, which persists to this day. So that still, more than 50 million Americans have yet to get their first vaccine dose. And I worry about those individuals every day because omicron is coming, even though we know that these vaccines are safe and effective, they don't help you if they're not in your arm. And there's a lot of people who are still really vulnerable; I hadn't expected that that was going to be such a problem. That didn't happen with polio, did it? That didn't happen with childhood vaccines. For various reasons where maybe it's partly because our society has become so divided about everything, we've ended up in a circumstance where conspiracies and rumors and false claims have scared people. If people are listening tonight who've heard those things or worried about them, are not sure whether these vaccines were rushed or whether they cause problems like infertility, look at the data. These are incredibly safe. They weren't rushed to the extent that they caused any cutting of corners at all. I know — I was in the middle of all that. They don't cause infertility, and they don't have a lot of these other things that you might have heard about on the social media circuit. If you haven't yet taken advantage of this life-saving intervention, please think about that, because today something like 1,300 people died from COVID-19 — and most of them were unvaccinated and most of those deaths didn't need to happen.

[00:35:58] Bill Walsh: Yeah, preventable deaths. Thanks so much, Dr. Collins. Dr. Walensky, we've been talking a lot about boosters and vaccines. I want to talk a little bit about treatments for COVID. Now the FDA may soon grant emergency use authorization for Merck's oral home treatment for mild to moderate COVID-19, and a second antiviral drug from Pfizer could soon follow. Are these antivirals a substitute for vaccines?

[00:36:24] Rochelle Walensky: This is a really important question. So two new drugs, the Merck drug called molnupiravir, and the Pfizer drug called Paxlovid, and … we will be hearing more about those I think in the weeks ahead. The first thing I want to say is the best way to be sure that you have a really good outcome is to prevent disease entirely. And the best way to do that is to get vaccinated and then to get boosted. So that is always our first line of defense. Prevent the disease entirely. There are these new drugs that are coming. They will be a really important tool in our toolbox. … The important thing to know about both of these drugs: They work differently, they prevent hospitalizations, and adverse outcomes if you were to get COVID and you have high risk of severe disease. But the important thing to know is you have to know about your symptoms early. You have to know you have COVID really early for these drugs to work their best. So if you have symptoms and you think you might have COVID, go get your test early and present yourself to a clinician, a health care provider early so that should these drugs be authorized, that they will be available to you early in your disease course to prevent hospitalization.

[00:37:43] Bill Walsh: Great, thanks for that. Now it's time to address more of your questions with Dr. Rochelle Walensky and Dr. Francis Collins. Jesse, let's go back to the lines. Who do we have up next?

[00:38:05] Jesse Salinas: Yeah, I had a follow-up question, Bill, on Facebook about the holiday time. “If I want my family to take a COVID test before coming over for the holidays, does it recognize the omicron variant?”

[00:38:17] Bill Walsh: Well, that's a timely question. Dr. Collins, can you address that?

[00:38:20] Francis Collins: That is a totally timely question. And of course, omicron has just arrived in the U.S., so we have very little experience so far of testing for it with these home tests. But actually, a whole team that works with NIH and FDA is probably working tonight to try to answer that question. The differences in between omicron and the original virus, in the area where the home tests work, are not particularly large, but we want to be sure. So stay tuned. We should have a better answer to that in the next two or three days.

[00:38:51] Bill Walsh: Very good. Thank you for that. Jesse, who do we have next?

[00:38:55] Jesse Salinas: The next question is going to come from Denise in Washington.

[00:38:59] Bill Walsh: Hey, Denise. Welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question.

[00:39:04] Denise: OK, thank you. Thank you, doctors, for all the work you're doing. My question is, I am fully vaccinated and I have the possibility that I may have to take a flight, about an hour flight, to help care for my 90-year-old father who is fully vaccinated. However, two of the people that live in the household are not vaccinated. So I'm wondering, first of all, it is foolhardy to do? And second of all, is there something I can do to try and stay as safe as possible while I'm caring for my father for about two weeks?

[00:39:45] Bill Walsh: Thanks for that question. Dr. Walensky, CDC has put out a lot of guidance on travel. Can you address this question?

[00:39:52] Rochelle Walensky: There are lots of things I think in that picture that we could encourage you to do. First of all, if it's possible to try and get your booster before you go, if you're eligible for your booster, six months out of an mRNA vaccine, then I would absolutely encourage you to get your booster as soon as possible before you travel. If you can get your father his booster, that would be great, too. We really do want to make sure that people who are at highest risk of disease — and I think that would include your 90-year-old father — would get a booster. I would really encourage that the people who are caring for him, that you work to get them vaccinated, and that may just be listening to them and understanding what their concerns are, and providing them information, providing them resources, providing them phone numbers that they are their trusted sources, so they feel comfortable getting vaccinated. Because if they are not vaccinated, that puts your father at risk of disease. And then finally, if folks are not vaccinated and they're out and about, you may want to have them wear a mask as they're taking care of your dad. For yourself, as you're getting on the plane, we're certainly recommending that people in all areas of transport are wearing masks the entire time. So do so during your travels. And of course, if you're in public indoor settings during your travels, to remain masked in those settings.

[00:41:10] Bill Walsh: Dr. Walensky, let me follow up on that. You talked about a situation where you might encounter people, members of your family actually, who are not vaccinated. Do you have any advice for how to talk to folks who aren't vaccinated to encourage them to get the shot without being confrontational?

[00:41:27] Rochelle Walensky: Bill, I think this is a really important question. And when people ask, how do I talk to them? The answer is more, I listen. Because you know, oftentimes you can, there's generally common ground. I think we all agree we want to be safe, we all agree we want this pandemic to be over, we all agree that we don't want any of our loved ones harmed. So the real question is what's getting in your way? Why have you chosen when there's been so much data out there and so much safety out there, and data that, you know, you're 14 times more likely to pass away from COVID if you're unvaccinated. With all those data out there, what's stopped you? And then start to have a dialogue — and sometimes it's more than one conversation. Sometimes it's, well, who have you talked to? Have you talked to people who've been vaccinated? Have you talked to people about your concerns? And to try and have multiple conversations to lead folks to understand what their challenges are and why they've decided, made that decision, to see if you can lead them to a better place.

[00:42:26] Bill Walsh: Great. Thank you so much for that. Jesse, let's go back to the lines. Who do we have next?

[00:42:31] Jesse Salinas: Yeah, we're getting a lot of questions on social media, Bill. I've got a question from Mike on Facebook and he's saying, “Are we any closer to herd immunity in the U.S., and does that even matter?”

[00:42:40] Bill Walsh: Hmm, herd immunity. It's something we've heard about for a long time. Dr. Collins, can you shed any light on that?

[00:42:46] Francis Collins: Well, I'll try. It's certainly a term that has gotten a lot of people confused, and it's challenging with the virus like this one, which keeps changing its coat. If we had somehow been able to control the original virus out of Wuhan, China, so that it didn't have an opportunity to mutate and turn into alpha and beta and delta, and now omicron, then herd immunity would make more sense, because you'd just be facing one particular enemy. But now we've got this whole army of different versions of SARS-CoV-2, and it's pretty clear that your immunity against one doesn't completely convey over to the next. It is clear, however, that the higher proportion of the population that has gotten vaccinated, and especially if they've gotten boosted, or if they've gotten infected naturally that they got vaccinated on top of that, if you can get that up to something like 90 percent, then all the models would say that starts to look like herd immunity, that starts to make the virus lose its grip and no longer be able to continue to hold the parties that it's holding now all over the place. We are way short of that. As much as we've tried in this country to get immunizations into arms, there's only about 60 percent of our population that is fully immunized, that has had the full two doses of Pfizer or Moderna, or one of J&J, so we're way short of whatever that magic threshold might be. We're still not quite sure where it is, but we know we're not at it.

[00:44:17] Bill Walsh: All right, thanks very much. Jesse, who do we have up next?

[00:44:22] Jesse Salinas: I'm going to take one more from Facebook. This is Jodelle, who says, “My husband and I have had COVID early … but we'd been long-haulers in having those kinds of issues. Is there research being done on long-hauler problems? And what are their remedies, if any?

[00:44:36] Bill Walsh: Dr. Collins, you are our research expert. Can you address a long-haul COVID and what's being looked at there?

[00:44:43] Francis Collins: I'm glad the question was posed because this is a really important issue, and it's one more reason to get vaccinated and boosted because you don't want long COVID, either. And this happens to some proportion of people who've had the original acute illness, and they just don't get better the way you'd expect over the course of a couple of weeks. Some significant fraction, four or five, six weeks later are still suffering — some of them from fatigue; some of them talk about brain fog, where it's just a little cloudy in terms of your ability to think clearly, which makes it hard to do your job or take care of your family or be in school. We don't understand the mechanism by which this virus can cause those kinds of long-term symptoms, but they are clearly very common and very real. At NIH, we have mounted a large scale study of 40,000 people to try to really dig deeply into understanding what's causing this, how to prevent it, and then how to treat those people who are suffering from it, because right now we don't really know enough to know what to try, and that's going to be a big push in the coming months. And we are certainly encouraged by how many people were willing to sign up for that kind of study and allow us to learn from them so that ultimately, we can lick this one, because this is a really serious and unexpected kind of long tale of the way in which COVID-19 is affecting us.

[00:46:02] Bill Walsh: I wonder if the antiviral drugs that Dr. Walensky was just talking about have shown any effectiveness for long-haul symptoms?

[00:46:10] Francis Collins: I don't think we have any data yet in that situation. And that is a very important thing to look at. There are people with long-haul or long COVID who after they get vaccinated have had significant improvement in their symptoms, suggesting that maybe they still have a lingering illness with the virus hiding somewhere in their system even though we can't find it. But I don't know what will happen with antiviral drugs. That will be a very interesting thing to try once we know that it's appropriate to do so.

[00:46:37] Bill Walsh: OK, thank you very much. Jesse, who do we have next?

[00:46:41] Jesse Salinas: We're going to take Teresa from Arkansas.

[00:46:43] Bill Walsh: Hey, Teresa, welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question.

[00:46:47] Teresa: Thank you. My question is for my 98-year-old mother — I'm her caregiver. Back in March she got the COVID, and we waited until June 18 to give her the first Pfizer vaccine. And the second one was done on July 9 with Pfizer. My question is, do you still wait six months for the booster, and should we continue with the Pfizer booster, or do you recommend any other?

[00:47:20] Bill Walsh: That's a great question. Let's have Dr. Rochelle Walensky answer. Dr. Walensky?

[00:47:25] Rochelle Walensky: I'd be happy to. I'm glad your mom did OK after her bout of COVID. And what I would say is right now our recommendations are to wait that six months, so she's almost there, and so she should be getting her booster pretty close to that six-month mark, and as soon as you can there. And then what I would say on which one you get — if she did well with her two Pfizer shots, I would say, go ahead and get that third shot as Pfizer. We really don't have a strong recommendation as to which one she gets, but if she did well with her first two, there's no reason to change.

[00:47:56] Bill Walsh: OK, thanks very much for that. Jesse, who do we have next on the line?

[00:48:00] Jesse Salinas: Our next caller is Elizabeth from California.

[00:48:03] Bill Walsh: Hey, Elizabeth, welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question.

[00:48:08] Elizabeth: Thank you very much for your participation. I have a question about home testing. I was wondering if there's any kind of home testing you'd recommend and brand, and also do you have any information about the free home test?

[00:48:22] Bill Walsh: Dr. Collins, do you want to address that? Home testing?

[00:48:25] Francis Collins: Sure. So the home tests that you can get in the pharmacy or online have all been reviewed by the FDA and have been granted emergency use authorization. So that means that you know that they have appropriate sensitivity to give you a trustworthy answer. The most commonly used ones that you might see out there — the Abbott, BinaxNOW, the Quidel QuickVue, the one called Ellume — they all perform really well. I mentioned earlier, we're making sure that they will work with omicron as well, but I'm pretty optimistic they will. So all of those are good. Now you asked about free home testing. We are running at NIH a pilot project in about nine places to see how would that work if you made it possible for people in a community that has a particularly high risk of COVID-19 to basically order online home tests and have them delivered free to their house the next day by Amazon, and that does seem to be something people are really interested in. So we're considering what to do next about that. Obviously, that would be a big national investment in terms of the cost, but it might make sense given how this pandemic is continuing to cause so much trouble across our nation.

[00:49:34] Bill Walsh: Thanks for that. Jesse, let's take another caller.

[00:49:38] Jesse Salinas: We're going to take Tony from North Carolina.

[00:49:41] Bill Walsh: Hey, Tony, welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question.

[00:49:44] Tony: Hi, thank you for having me. My question is for the CDC or the researchers that are in a position to know what's the end game of all this? At some point, is it going to be over or are we going to yearly have to take these injections? Because I had read a while back that the Spanish flu that killed so many people had mutated to a point that it no longer affected us. I was just wondering, is there an end, end game in sight?

[00:50:18] Bill Walsh: Dr. Walensky, I wonder if you could weigh in on that? Maybe Dr. Collins, you want to have a word as well.

[00:50:24] Rochelle Walensky: Tony, we are, we are with you. We very much are interested in seeing how … we can get this to the end game. So a few things; one is we'd really like to get to the end game where we have enough immune protection in the entire population, that people are no longer severely impacted by any of the variants. And we do that either because people are getting infected or because they're vaccinated. We'd, of course, love to do it through vaccination so that we don't have severe adverse outcomes from the disease itself. And I do think that once we have enough of that immune protection, that we will eventually have less and less severe outcomes of disease, we'll reach a level where we have less and less disease in general. In terms of a question about will we keep needing these vaccine boosters? We don't have the science yet to inform that, but what I will say is that we have many vaccines out there that require one dose, a second dose a month later, and a dose at six months. For example, our hepatitis B vaccines have that kind of series. So there are examples of vaccines out there where you do need that boost for the long-term immune protection, but you don't need a frequent shot every year like you do the flu shot. So that is something that we are going to continue to have the science help inform, but it's not necessarily a given that we're going to have to be there.

[00:51:51] Bill Walsh: Dr. Collins, did you want to weigh in?

[00:51:52] Francis Collins: Dr. Walensky has it exactly right, in terms of what we need to do to try to maximize the chances of driving this virus away. Let me just add one other thing though, and that is that unless we get the rest of the planet also immunized, the virus will continue to have its parties, and it will in the process develop additional variants that could emerge again to give us a challenge. So we have from self-interest, enlightened self-interest, a really serious commitment to making sure that the rest of the planet also has a chance to get immunized; and going beyond that, I think many of us who think of all of those peoples in those countries, they're our family, too. We ought to be doing everything we can to try to provide them with this kind of protection that we now have for free here in this country. The United States has done more than all the other countries of the world combined to make vaccine doses available to people in low- and middle-income countries. Now over a billion are committed and about 300 million have already been shipped, and we need to continue to do that because the true end of COVID-19 won't readily come if there's still lots of places where the virus can continue to spread because people haven't had a chance yet to get vaccinated. This isn't in our best interest.

[00:53:08] Rochelle Walensky: That's absolutely right. And the saying, “No one is safe until we're all safe.”

[00:53:13] Bill Walsh: OK, thank you both for that. And Dr. Collins, you were just speaking about endings. You've had a distinguished career in public service to Americans under three presidents, you led the Human Genome Project and are a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient. You recently announced that you'll be stepping down tomorrow, your last day at the National Institutes of Health. What's next for you?

[00:53:37] Francis Collins: Well, 12 years is a long time to serve in this role. It's been an incredible privilege, but I think scientific organizations need new vision and new leadership. And so the president is going to have a chance to appoint a terrific person to step in and be the next leader. And NIH is in very strong position right now to continue the fight against COVID-19 and all these other things like cancer and diabetes and heart disease that we are the main supporter of research for — for the whole world. So I'm incredibly fortunate to have played this role. I'm going to step back into my research lab and work on diabetes, which is an area that I think is ripe for some major advances, as well as a rare disease that causes premature aging called progeria, where I think we have a chance with gene therapy perhaps to help, and maybe even cure these children who suffer from this condition. It's going to be interesting. I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do when I grow up. I'm going to figure that out over the course of the next year.

[00:54:34] Bill Walsh: All right. Well, good luck with that. And thank you both for being with us tonight and answering all of our questions. This has been a really informative discussion. And thank you, our AARP members, volunteers and listeners for participating in this discussion. 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. Now all of the resources referenced here today, including a recording of the Q&A event, can be found at aarp.org/coronavirus on Dec. 17. Again, that web address is aarp.org/coronavirus. Go there if your question was not addressed, and you will 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 tune in for our next live coronavirus event in January of 2022. AARP wishes you all a happy and safe holiday season. Thank you and have a good day. This concludes our call.

Teleasamblea de AARP sobre el coronavirus:

Lo que necesita saber sobre los refuerzos, las vacunas y las variantes

Bill Walsh: Hola, soy Bill Walsh, vicepresidente de AARP, y quiero darles la bienvenida a esta importante discusión sobre el coronavirus. Antes de comenzar, si desean escuchar esta teleasamblea en español presionen *0 en el teclado de su teléfono ahora.

[En español]

Bill Walsh: AARP es una organización de membresía, sin fines de lucro y sin afiliación política. Hemos estado trabajando para promover la salud y el bienestar de los adultos mayores en EE.UU. durante más de 60 años. Frente a la pandemia mundial de coronavirus, AARP proporciona información y recursos para ayudar a los adultos mayores y a quienes los cuidan.

Mientras reflexionamos sobre lo que ha sido un 2021 realmente desafiante y nos preparamos para el nuevo año, estamos llenos de esperanza y preocupación. Bueno, más del 87% de las personas mayores de 65 años están completamente vacunadas y los refuerzos están ampliamente disponibles. Existe una incertidumbre creciente con la aparición de la variante ómicron.

A medida que nos acercamos a los dos años de la pandemia de COVID-19, la pregunta es: ¿terminará esto alguna vez? Y, por supuesto, las personas en el país tienen preocupaciones inmediatas sobre cómo mantenerse seguros y saludables mientras se preparan para reunirse con sus seres queridos durante las vacaciones. Esta noche escucharemos a dos de los principales expertos hablar sobre estos temas y otros.

Si ya han participado en alguna de nuestras teleasambleas, saben que esto es similar a un programa de entrevistas y tienen la oportunidad de hacer sus preguntas en vivo. Para aquellos de ustedes que se unan a nosotros por teléfono, si desean hacer una pregunta sobre la pandemia de coronavirus, presionen asterisco tres en el teclado de su teléfono para conectarse con un miembro del personal de AARP que anotará su nombre y su pregunta y los colocará en una cola para hacer esa pregunta en vivo. Si nos acompañan a través de Facebook o YouTube, pueden publicar su pregunta en los comentarios.

Hola, si acaban de unirse, soy Bill Walsh, de AARP, y quiero darles la bienvenida a esta importante discusión sobre la pandemia mundial de coronavirus. Hablaremos con principales expertos y responderemos sus preguntas en vivo. Para hacer una pregunta, presionen *3. Y si se unen a través de Facebook o YouTube, pueden publicar su pregunta en la sección de comentarios.

Tenemos dos invitados especiales que nos acompañan esta noche, incluidos los directores de los Centros para el Control y la Prevención de Enfermedades y los Institutos Nacionales de Salud. También nos acompañará mi colega de AARP, Jesse Salinas, quien ayudará a facilitar sus llamadas.

Este evento está siendo grabado y se podrá acceder a la grabación en aarp.org/coronavirus 24 horas después de que terminemos. Nuevamente, para hacer una pregunta, presionen asterisco tres en cualquier momento en el teclado de su teléfono para conectarse con un miembro del personal de AARP. Si se unen a nosotros a través de Facebook o YouTube, escriban en la sección de comentarios.

Ahora me gustaría dar la bienvenida a nuestra invitada, la Dra. Rochelle P. Walensky, médica y doctora en Salud Pública. Ella es la Directora de los Centros para el Control y la Prevención de Enfermedades. Bienvenida de nuevo al programa, Dra. Walensky.

Rochelle Walensky: Buenas noches, Bill. Estoy encantada de estar aquí y especialmente feliz de estar aquí con el Dr. Collins. Gracias a AARP por invitarme a participar, y gracias a Francis por ser el director de los NIH durante 12 años, 12 años increíbles, permítame compartir mi agradecimiento por el trabajo que ha hecho y continuará haciendo para cambiar vidas y salvar vidas. Gracias.

Bill Walsh: Muy bien. Y muchas gracias por estar con nosotros. El Dr. Francis Collins es el director de los Institutos Nacionales de Salud. Bienvenido de nuevo al programa, Dr. Collins.

Francis Collins: Me alegro de estar aquí. Y también estoy muy contento de hacer este programa con la Dra. Walensky, que es una líder tan notable, directora de salud pública de nuestra nación, que ha hecho tanto en el transcurso de estos dos años muy difíciles de COVID-19 para difundir la información y asegurarse de que se esté haciendo todo lo posible para ayudar a las personas. Y espero que esta noche tengamos la oportunidad de responder muchas preguntas. Pero es realmente un privilegio pasar tiempo con todos ustedes en mis últimos tres días antes de renunciar como director de NIH.

Bill Walsh: Muy bien, me alegro tenerlo en el programa antes de que renunciara. Comencemos con nuestra discusión. Y solo un recordatorio para nuestros oyentes y espectadores, para hacer una pregunta, presionen *3 en el teclado de su teléfono, escriban en la sección de comentarios en Facebook o YouTube.

Dra. Walensky, comencemos por usted. El presidente esbozó recientemente nuevos planes para abordar la pandemia. ¿Qué ha cambiado y por qué eran necesarios esos cambios?

Rochelle Walensky: Mientras Estados Unidos se adentra en los meses de invierno y ve la aparición de una nueva variante, la variante ómicron, a principios de diciembre, el presidente Biden anunció nueve nuevas medidas para combatir la pandemia de COVID-19. Actualmente, ómicron representa aproximadamente el 3% de todos los casos de COVID-19 y se ha detectado ahora en 38 estados, así como en Washington, D.C. y Puerto Rico.

El presidente reconoce, todos reconocemos que no podemos ser complacientes en este momento. Por eso, su nuevo plan incluye garantizar que casi 100 millones de estadounidenses que reúnen los requisitos que aún no han recibido su vacuna de refuerzo la reciban lo antes posible, mejorar el acceso a las pruebas gratuitas en el hogar y fortalecer los protocolos de viajes internacionales.

Ahora, estos pasos son necesarios porque la COVID-19 no se ha ralentizado y nuevamente estamos viendo un aumento de casos y hospitalizaciones. Y estamos viendo alrededor de 1,100 muertes por día. No podemos, yo no puedo estar en una posición en la que eso esté bien. La vacunación es nuestra forma de salir de esta pandemia. Y nuestras vacunas protegen a las personas contra la COVID-19. Están ralentizando la transmisión y reduciendo la probabilidad de que surjan nuevas variantes.

En este momento hay más de 200 millones de personas completamente vacunadas, y más de 55 millones de personas en EE.UU. ya han recibido su dosis de refuerzo. Todas las personas mayores de 16 años deben recibir un refuerzo tan pronto como puedan. Si uno recibió las dosis de la vacuna Pfizer o Moderna, puede recibir una dosis de refuerzo seis meses después de su segunda dosis.

Si recibió la vacuna Johnson and Johnson, puede recibir el refuerzo dos meses después de recibir su dosis única. Por lo tanto, vacunarse y recibir una dosis de refuerzo, si uno es apto para ello, son las medidas más importantes que puede tomar para protegerse y proteger a quienes lo rodean.

Bill Walsh: Muy bien, muchas gracias por eso, Dra. Walensky. Dr. Collins, volvamos a usted. ¿Por qué es tan preocupante la variante ómicron? ¿Qué protecciones ofrecen las vacunas actuales contra ella? ¿Y esto significa, como dijo la semana pasada el director ejecutivo de Pfizer, que pronto se necesitará una dosis adicional de vacuna?

Francis Collins: Todos nos estamos acostumbrando al alfabeto griego, ¿no? Seguimos viendo variantes que surgen de este virus original SARS-CoV-2, que se identificó por primera vez en Wuhan, China. Pero con el paso del tiempo, cada vez que el virus tiene la oportunidad de replicarse a sí mismo, de vez en cuando, comete un error. Y la mayoría de ellos son dañinos para el virus, pero ocasionalmente le brindan algunas ventajas.

Y así surgen nuevas variantes como alfa, beta, delta, gamma y ahora ómicron. Ómicron es preocupante, en particular, porque tiene una gran cantidad de mutaciones diferentes, como las llamamos, en su libro de instrucciones, lo que significa que es un virus diferente al que hemos estado tratando antes. Es decir, sigue estando relacionada, sigue siendo parte de la misma familia, pero tiene suficientes diferencias como para que la gente se preocupe mucho por si las vacunas con las que todos contamos nos van a proteger contra ómicron. Así que aquí están los datos.

Los datos dicen que, de hecho, si ha recibido dos dosis de Pfizer o dos dosis de Moderna, tiene cierta protección contra ómicron. Pero no es tan buena como a uno le gustaría, no es tan buena como lo fue contra el virus original. Sin embargo, la buena noticia es que un refuerzo, al que se puede optar como acaba de indicar la Dra. Walensky, la mayoría de las personas que han recibido la inmunización original pueden optar a un refuerzo, y el refuerzo ofrece una protección mucho mejor contra ómicron en un 80% más o menos.

Se trata de un hallazgo realmente alentador, que indica que por el momento no necesitamos una vacuna distinta elaborada específicamente contra ómicron. Las vacunas que tenemos ahora son realmente capaces de brindar protección, pero necesita ese refuerzo. Y sé que estamos hablando con AARP y yo soy socio de AARP. Básicamente, la mayoría de las personas mayores de 65 años han recibido las vacunas originales porque han entendido que se trata de un virus particularmente peligroso para ellas, pero muchas de ellas aún no han recibido el refuerzo.

Entonces, la gente que escucha esta noche, si hay un mensaje que espero que se lleven, es que si aún no han recibido ese refuerzo, si lo han estado posponiendo o no estaban muy seguros de si lo necesitaban, este es el momento de recibirlo. Porque ómicron será un verdadero desafío para todos nosotros. Y el refuerzo es la mejor protección. Vayan a vaccines.gov. o si tienen un teléfono celular, simplemente escriban al 438829, y luego ingresen su código postal y les dirá dónde está el lugar más cercano a ustedes que tiene vacunas listas para administrar. Y no esperen para obtener su refuerzo los próximos días. Será el mejor regalo de Navidad que puedan darse a sí mismos.

Bill Walsh: Muy bien, buen consejo. Gracias Dr. Collins. Dra. Walensky, volvamos a usted. Nuestros oyentes continúan preguntándonos si hay circunstancias en las que no necesitan o no deben recibir una vacuna o un refuerzo. ¿Existen dolencias específicas o enfermedades preexistentes que impedirían que las personas reciban una vacuna o un refuerzo?

Rochelle Walensky: Gracias por esa pregunta. Y la respuesta corta es no. Pero las vacunas contra la COVID-19, ya sea la serie de vacunación primaria o la dosis de refuerzo, se recomiendan y se pueden administrar a la mayoría de las personas con trastornos médicas subyacentes que incluyen cáncer, VIH, enfermedad renal crónica y enfermedad hepática, diabetes y embarazo.

Y, de hecho, generalmente es el caso de que aquellos con esas enfermedades subyacentes son especialmente los que necesitan el refuerzo. Todas las personas mayores de cinco años, incluidas las personas inmunodeprimidas, deben recibir una serie primaria de la vacuna contra la COVID-19 lo antes posible.

Las personas inmunodeprimidas son especialmente vulnerables a la COVID-19, por lo que hay que asegurarse de que reciban un refuerzo, y los adultos de cualquier edad con ciertas enfermedades subyacentes corren un mayor riesgo de sufrir una enfermedad grave a causa del virus que causa la COVID-19. Las excepciones a esto son realmente excepcionales.

Y si creen que tienen una, deben consultar con su proveedor de atención médica para que les aconseje sobre su situación específica. Pero, en general, la regla es que hay muy pocas personas que no deberían recibir una vacuna o refuerzo contra la COVID-19.

Bill Walsh: Bien, muchas gracias por eso. Permítanme continuar hablando sobre las vacunas. ¿Qué puede decirnos, Dra. Walensky, sobre la recomendación de los asesores de los CDC hoy de elegir las vacunas Pfizer o Moderna en lugar de la vacuna Johnson and Johnson?

Rochelle Walensky: Sí, gracias por esa pregunta. Esta noticia es de hoy. El día de hoy, los CDC respaldaron las recomendaciones actualizadas del Comité Asesor sobre Prácticas de Inmunización. Ese es nuestro Comité Asesor de vacunas para la prevención de COVID-19. Y expresamos una preferencia clínica por que las personas reciban una vacuna de ARNm contra la COVID-19 sobre una vacuna de Johnson and Johnson contra la COVID-19.

Ahora, la recomendación unánime del comité asesor se produjo tras un debate científico realmente intenso sobre las últimas pruebas de la eficacia de las vacunas, su seguridad y los muy raros efectos adversos, y la consideración de un suministro de vacunas muy amplio en Estados Unidos. Entonces, el suministro de vacunas de ARNm es abundante en este país con casi cien millones de dosis en el campo en este momento para uso inmediato.

Por tanto, esta recomendación actualizada de los CDC sigue recomendaciones similares. Y lo hemos visto en otros países, incluidos Canadá y el Reino Unido. Ahora, lo único que quiero decir es que si se han vacunado anteriormente con Johnson and Johnson, está bien, me alegro de que se hayan vacunado. Y si pasaron dos meses de esa vacuna, deben recibir un refuerzo.

Pero dado el estado actual de la pandemia aquí y en todo el mundo, el ACIP realmente reafirmó que recibir cualquier vacuna es mejor que no estar vacunado. Y eso es probablemente lo que sucedió cuando se recibió esa primera dosis. Pero las personas que no pueden o no quieren recibir una vacuna de ARNm deben seguir teniendo acceso a la vacuna de Johnson and Johnson.

Bill Walsh: Bien, muchas gracias, Dra. Walensky. Dr. Collins, tantos estadounidenses soñaban con viajar o pasar tiempo con sus seres queridos, retrasado ​​o frustrado por esta pandemia. ¿Qué palabras de aliento puede ofrecer y qué consejo tiene para las personas que visitan a familiares en esta temporada navideña?

Francis Collins: Bueno, sé que la gente está muy cansada de la COVID-19, créanme, yo también estoy cansado de recomendaciones sobre cosas que no se pueden hacer, pero por desgracia, se trata de un virus astuto, y no renuncia a su ataque contra nosotros. Y, de hecho, como han escuchado, el número de casos ha aumentado en el transcurso de las últimas semanas, la mayoría de ellos de delta, y luego tenemos a ómicron, que viendo hacia atrás, lo veíamos venir y probablemente será la variante viral dominante en Estados Unidos en las próximas semanas.

Así que no es momento de relajarse y bajar la guardia. Pero déjenme ser claro, ahora tenemos vacunas que no teníamos hace un año cuando hablábamos de las vacaciones. Y, por lo tanto, estamos en una situación en la que las personas se han vacunado, hemos recibido un refuerzo, tenemos un cierto nivel de protección contra lo que está sucediendo. Pero aún así, diría que si viajan durante las vacaciones, tengan mucho cuidado de no reunirse en espacios cerrados con otras personas cuyo estado de vacunación se desconoce.

Y ciertamente deberían usar una mascarilla en espacios cerrados de acuerdo con las pautas de los CDC, porque eso no es solo un poco de protección para uno, están protegiendo a otras personas contra el hecho de que podrían estar infectados sin saberlo, incluso habiendo sido vacunados. Nuevamente, creo que las personas, si tienen cuidado con esto, pueden lograr tener este tipo de reuniones festivas, pero es mejor mantenerlas en un tamaño modesto y asegurarse de que todos los que los rodean tengan establecido su estado de vacunación.

En todas las reuniones a las que me planteo ir durante las fiestas, básicamente, me dicen: si no estás vacunado, nos vemos en otra ocasión. Y puedo entender por qué es así. Y algunos incluso dicen, aunque estés vacunado y hayas recibido un refuerzo, por qué no te haces una prueba el día antes de venir a nuestra fiesta. No es obligatorio, pero es algo en lo que mucha gente está empezando a pensar como un nivel más de seguridad.

Bill Walsh: Bien, gracias, Dr. Collins. Y como recordatorio a nuestros oyentes para que hagan su pregunta, presionen *3 en su teléfono. Pronto llegaremos a esas preguntas en vivo. Pero antes de que lo hagamos, quiero traer a Nancy LeaMond. Nancy es vicepresidenta ejecutiva y directora de Activismo y Compromiso de AARP. Bienvenida, Nancy. Es bueno tenerla con nosotros.

Nancy LeaMond: Hola, Bill. Genial estar aquí. Gracias por invitarme.

Bill Walsh: Ahora, nos ha estado proporcionando actualizaciones sobre la legislación crítica pendiente en el Capitolio que beneficiaría a los adultos mayores del país. ¿Cuál es la última actualización?

Nancy LeaMond: Bueno, la Cámara y el Senado estuvieron en sesión esta semana, y continuamos con nuestra defensa de la ley Build Back Better, que, por supuesto, todavía necesita ser aprobada por el Senado. En cuanto a las novedades, en las últimas horas hemos recibido informes tanto de la Casa Blanca como del Congreso que indican que el debate sobre Build Back Better se va a prolongar durante el nuevo año. Ahora, no se equivoquen, AARP seguirá luchando para asegurarse de que las disposiciones y prioridades clave permanezcan en el proyecto de ley.

Lo principal son las disposiciones para ayudar a reducir los precios de los medicamentos recetados. Las familias en Estados unidos simplemente no pueden permitirse seguir pagando los precios más altos del mundo. Es hora de que el Congreso permita que Medicare negocie algunos costos de medicamentos y tome otras medidas para controlar a las grandes farmacéuticas. Estamos más cerca que nunca. Y estamos haciendo todo lo posible para llevarlo a cabo. También abogamos por agregar cobertura de audición a Medicare, licencias pagadas y otras políticas que serían enormemente beneficiosas para los adultos mayores.

Bill Walsh: Está bien. Ahora, el New York Times informó esta semana que EE.UU. ha superado las 800,000 muertes relacionadas con la COVID-19 y casi tres cuartas partes fueron de personas de 65 años o más. Quiero decir, es difícil de imaginar, pero 1 de cada 100 adultos mayores en EE.UU. ha muerto a causa del virus.

Nancy LeaMond: Es difícil imaginar que la profundidad de esta tragedia sea simplemente insondable. La COVID-19 es ahora la tercera causa principal de muerte entre las personas mayores de 65 años, detrás de las enfermedades cardíacas y el cáncer. Hemos perdido demasiadas vidas y con casi 1,200 personas que siguen muriendo de COVID-19 todos los días en el país, debemos permanecer en la lucha. Tenemos que hacer todo lo posible para mantener a todos a salvo. Demasiadas personas tienen sillas vacías alrededor de su mesa en esta temporada navideña, y acompañamos de corazón a todos los que han perdido a alguien.

Bill Walsh: Nancy, hemos realizado muchas de estas asambleas virtuales juntos desde que comenzó la pandemia. Llegando a finales del 2021, ¿hay algo que le dé motivos para ser optimista?

Nancy LeaMond: Bueno, por muy inciertas que sean las cosas, tenemos mucho que agradecer. Tenemos mucho que agradecer. Recuerden que el año pasado por estas fechas no estábamos seguros de cuándo estarían disponibles las vacunas contra la COVID-19, y ahora, según los CDC, como ya han oído decir a la Dra. Walensky, el 87% de los adultos mayores de 65 años están totalmente vacunados, y más de 54 millones de estadounidenses han recibido una dosis adicional de refuerzo en los últimos meses.

Con tanta información y desinformación, AARP se enfoca en ser un recurso confiable para las personas mayores de 50 años y sus familias. Y estoy orgullosa de haber conectado a miles de personas con la increíble información de los expertos. Hemos ayudado a la gente a concertar citas para las vacunas y, en algunas comunidades, proporcionamos transporte gratuito para que las personas se vacunen. Pero la pandemia no ha terminado. Y debemos estar atentos y seguir apoyándonos unos a otros en esta situación.

Bill Walsh: Muy bien, gracias. Nancy, ¿algún comentario de despedida?

Nancy LeaMond: Bueno, quiero desearles a todos una feliz y saludable temporada festiva de parte de AARP. Por favor, vacúnense y reciban su vacuna de refuerzo si aún no lo han hecho. Este virus, como hemos escuchado nuevamente esta noche, es muy peligroso para los mayores y aún no estamos fuera de peligro. Estén bien, manténganse a salvo y, por supuesto, acudan a AARP para obtener información o hacer preguntas más adelante.

Bill Walsh: Muy bien, muchas gracias, Nancy, gracias por estar con nosotros hoy. Ahora es el momento de abordar sus preguntas sobre el coronavirus con la Dra. Rochelle Walensky y el Dr. Francis Collins. Presionen *3 en cualquier momento en el teclado de su teléfono para conectarse con un miembro del personal de AARP y compartir su pregunta en vivo. Y si desean escuchar en español, presionen *0 en el teclado de su teléfono ahora.

[En español]

Bill Walsh: Ahora me gustaría traer a mi colega de AARP Jesse Salinas para ayudar a facilitar sus llamadas esta noche. Bienvenido, Jesse.

Jesse Salinas: Me alegro de estar aquí, Bill.

Bill Walsh: Muy bien, ¿de quién es nuestra primera llamada?

Jesse Salinas: Nuestra primera pregunta será en realidad desde las redes sociales, de YouTube, y es de Dennis Cleary, quien pregunta ¿es prudente ir a una fiesta navideña familiar, si estoy vacunado y recibí el refuerzo?

Bill Walsh: Muy bien, Dr. Collins, estaba hablando de reunirse durante las vacaciones. ¿Qué puede decirle a nuestro oyente?

Francis Collins: Bueno, mucho depende de quién más vendrá a la reunión familiar. Me alegro de que quien llama ya esté vacunado y haya recibido el refuerzo, lo que significa que tiene una protección bastante buena contra las infecciones, pero no es absoluta. Y nuevamente, para obtener los máximos beneficios de los tipos de procedimientos que nos mantendrán a todos saludables, yo diría que sería mejor averiguar si las otras personas que van a la reunión también están vacunadas y recibieron el refuerzo.

Y si no es así, entonces uno realmente debería pensar si quieren estar juntos en un espacio cerrado durante un largo período, o si debieran usar mascarilla cuando estén allí. Por supuesto, eso es muy difícil. Si van a tener una gran cena de Navidad, entonces no pueden ponerse la mascarilla. Solo diría como una forma de precaución en este momento, porque este virus todavía está con nosotros. La persona que llama podría considerar seriamente si desea asistir a una reunión a la que asisten otras personas que no se han vacunado, porque eso pone a todo el mundo en riesgo.

Bill Walsh: Bien, muchas gracias por eso. Jesse, volvamos a las líneas. ¿A quién tenemos ahora?

Jesse Salinas: Nuestra próxima llamada es de Carol de Minnesota.

Bill Walsh: Hola, Carol, bienvenida a nuestro programa. Continúe con su pregunta.

Carol: Sí. Mi pregunta es para las personas que no han sido vacunadas, y luego se contagiaron de COVID-19 y lo superaron, ¿existe un protocolo para que luego se vacunen? Y si lo hay, ¿cuánto tiempo deben esperar?

Bill Walsh: Dra. Walensky, ¿puede responder esa pregunta?

Rochelle Walensky: Por supuesto. Carol, gracias por esa pregunta. Hemos recibido muchas preguntas así. Recomendamos absolutamente que las personas que hayan sido infectadas previamente reciban la serie completa de vacunas. Entonces, si se ha infectado en el último mes o dos, sería mejor esperar un mes, más o menos. Pero si se ha infectado anteriormente hace más de un mes, entonces le diría que comience ahora con una serie de vacunas.

Lo que sabemos, como decía el Dr. Collins, es que la variante actual de ómicron tiene muchas mutaciones. Y debido a que tiene tantas mutaciones, es posible que necesitemos un poco más de protección inmunitaria contra esta variante. Entonces, tiene algo de protección, porque ha estado expuesto anteriormente. Así que tiene una cierta protección porque ha estado expuesto anteriormente, pero seguimos recomendando que, incluso si ha tenido la enfermedad antes, refuerce su protección, especialmente contra la variante ómicron, con una serie completa de vacunas.

Bill Walsh: Bien, muchas gracias. Jesse, ¿quién sigue?

Jesse Salinas: Nuestra próxima llamada es de Pat de Nueva York.

Bill Walsh: Hola, Pat, bienvenido a nuestro programa. Continúe con su pregunta.

Pat: Mi pregunta es, si ha recibido las tres vacunas de Pfizer —ahora, mi marido y yo recibimos nuestro refuerzo el pasado mes de agosto —, ¿seguirá siendo tan viable combatir el virus ahora durante los meses de invierno?

Bill Walsh: ¿Qué piensa usted, Dra. Walensky? ¿Cuál es el impacto a largo plazo de estas vacunas? ¿Cuánto tiempo nos protegen?

Rochelle Walensky: Bueno, si ha recibido un refuerzo, esa es nuestra recomendación actual. Y no diría que necesita nada más en este momento. Estamos estudiando activamente qué tan bien funcionan nuestros refuerzos, no solo para la variante delta, sino también para la variante ómicron. Y anticipamos que funcionarán bien.

Qué tan bien funcionan a lo largo del tiempo, sigue siendo una cuestión de datos que están surgiendo, pero no tenemos más recomendaciones de más vacunas en este momento. Es muy bueno que hayan recibido el refuerzo. Y continuaremos siguiendo esa ciencia y dando más recomendaciones a medida que esa ciencia evolucione.

Bill Walsh: Está bien. Muchísimas gracias. Jesse, ¿quién es el siguiente en la línea?

Jesse Salinas: Nuestra próxima llamada es de Mark de Minnesota.

Bill Walsh: Hola, Mark, bienvenido al programa. Continúe con su pregunta.

Mark: Sí, está bien. Bien, tengo una hija que tiene 40 años. ... Tiene necesidades especiales. Recibió la vacuna Johnson & Johnson en marzo, la de una sola dosis, y el 1.º de noviembre recibió el refuerzo... la vacuna de refuerzo completa de Pfizer frente a la media dosis de Moderna. Así que me pregunto qué tan eficaz es su pauta en comparación con la pauta de tres inyecciones. Y vamos a ir al... voy a llevarla al Desfile de las Rosas en Pasadena el 1.º de enero, y va a ser al aire libre, pero me pregunto sobre la eficacia de su pauta.

Bill Walsh: Correcto. Seguro. Dr. Collins, ¿tomaría esa pregunta?

Francis Collins: Con gusto. De hecho, en los NIH probamos esta misma pregunta para ver si se pueden combinar la serie de inmunización inicial y el refuerzo, qué sucedería. Eso incluía la Pfizer, la Moderna y la J&J. Y está bien, si comenzó con una de esas, pero luego recibió el refuerzo de cualquiera de las otras tres, ¿qué sucedió?

La buena noticia fue que básicamente con J&J, si recibía el refuerzo de Pfizer o Moderna, terminaba con niveles de anticuerpos muy impresionantes, muy similares a lo que hubiera sucedido si se hubiera quedado con Pfizer o Moderna todo el tiempo. Entonces, creo que su hija está en muy buenas manos. Recibió el refuerzo. De nuevo, como ómicron está presente, y sabemos que va a ser capaz seguir avanzando, la idea de celebrarlo al aire libre, como en el Desfile de las Rosas, parece buena.

Y si está en espacios cerrados, entonces use la mascarilla porque nunca se sabe quién está a su alrededor y cuál es su estado; e incluso si todo el mundo está vacunado en los espacios cerrados, no es mala idea usar esas mascarillas porque no siempre podemos estar seguros de que alguien pueda estar incubando el virus. Pero me parece que ha hecho todo lo que debía, y gracias por su llamada.

Bill Walsh: Muy bien, muchas gracias. Jesse. Volvamos a las líneas. ¿A quién tenemos ahora?

Jesse Salinas: Nuestra próxima pregunta será en realidad de Facebook. "Si originalmente me vacuné con la Johnson and Johnson y el refuerzo es de Moderna, ¿estoy protegido como alguien que recibió el ciclo de Moderna completo?"

Bill Walsh: Dr. Collins, acaba de abordar esto. ¿Quiere responder eso también?

Francis Collins: Sí, sí. Claramente, esta es una pregunta que tiene mucha gente. Por cierto, dos de mis nietos recibieron la J&J, así que también me preguntan esto todo el tiempo. Sí, si originalmente lo inmunizaron con la J&J y luego recibió el refuerzo de Moderna o Pfizer, debería estar en muy buenas manos. Están lo más protegidos posible con las vacunas disponibles.

Bill Walsh: Bien, muchas gracias. Tomemos otra pregunta. Jesse, ¿a quién tenemos ahora en la línea?

Jesse Salinas: Una más de Facebook, Bill. Tenemos a Diane, quien pregunta, ¿cuál es la actualización más reciente sobre vacunas para niños? Quiere ver a sus nietos y está preocupada por ellos.

Bill Walsh: Está bien. Dra. Walensky? ¿Quiere darnos las pautas sobre las vacunas para niños?

Rochelle Walensky: Sí, sería fantástico. Acabamos de aprobar o autorizar, debería decir que la FDA ha autorizado y hemos recomendado vacunas para niños a partir de los cinco años. Y ahora tenemos más de 7 millones de vacunas y realmente 5 millones de niños que han sido vacunados entre las edades de 5 a 11 años. En la reunión del Comité Asesor de hoy, revisamos los datos de los primeros 7 millones de vacunas que se han administrado a niños entre las edades de 5 a 11. Y los datos de seguridad fueron realmente convincentes y realmente demostraron cuán seguras son estas vacunas en los niños entre las edades de 5 y 11 años.

Los efectos secundarios solo han sido dolor en el brazo, fatiga, fiebre, y ocurren un día después de la vacuna y realmente no limitan mucho a estos niños. Entonces, se resolvieron con relativa rapidez. Así que es una gran noticia para los niños de hasta cinco años. Ahora estamos esperando que Pfizer presente sus datos para las edades de hasta dos años, y luego, en última instancia, de hasta seis meses, y esperamos... No tengo un calendario oficial al respecto, pero espero que poco después del primer día del año.

Bill Walsh: Es genial escuchar eso. Gracias por esos resultados. Y mantendremos nuestros oídos atentos a cualquier vacuna adicional para niños aún más pequeños. Gracias por todas sus preguntas, y recibiremos más en breve. Y recuerden, para hacer una pregunta, presionen *3 en el teclado de su teléfono. Por el momento, volvamos a nuestros expertos.

Dra. Walensky, los centros de atención a largo plazo se han visto especialmente afectados por la COVID-19, ya que son responsables de unas 186.000 muertes, lo que supone casi una cuarta parte del total. Con el impulso mayor para administrar el refuerzo a más personas en EE.UU., ¿cuál es el estado de las vacunas de refuerzo en los hogares de ancianos y los centros de vida asistida? ¿Y cómo pueden obtener más información las familias sobre si los residentes y el personal han sido vacunados o recibieron una dosis de refuerzo en estos centros?

Rochelle Walensky: Sí, esta es una pregunta muy importante porque nuestros centros de atención a largo plazo se han visto muy afectados. Al 12 de diciembre, entre los que completaron una serie de vacunas, casi el 55% de los residentes de hogares de ancianos y poco más del 23% de nuestro personal de hogares de ancianos recibieron una vacuna de refuerzo. Acabamos de publicar datos que han demostrado la importancia de recibir esa vacuna de refuerzo en nuestros centros de cuidados a largo plazo.

Así que lo que hemos visto es... porque vacunamos a nuestros residentes de centros de atención a largo plazo tan pronto que estamos empezando a ver que la eficacia de la vacuna, si no se ha reforzado, puede disminuir. Así que ahora tenemos esta combinación de la posibilidad de que la eficacia de la vacuna disminuya, así como la variante ómicron, que es la razón por la que realmente necesitamos un refuerzo ahora mismo para esos residentes

Entonces, lo que han demostrado nuestros datos es que entre los residentes que han recibido un refuerzo, existe un riesgo diez veces menor de contraer la enfermedad. Así que ahora hemos demostrado realmente los datos de que estos refuerzos están surtiendo efecto en los residentes de nuestros centros de atención a largo plazo, y estamos trabajando duro con nuestros colaboradores de las farmacias para lograr que la gente reciba el refuerzo, y hacer que los colaboradores de las farmacias vayan a los centros de atención a largo plazo para garantizar que esos residentes tengan acceso al refuerzo.

Bill Walsh: Bien, muchas gracias por eso. Dr. Collins, déjeme volver a hablar con usted. Me pregunto si podría retroceder un poco y decirnos cómo cree que esta pandemia va a moldear las políticas de salud pública en el futuro. ¿Qué aprendimos?

Francis Collins: Hemos aprendido mucho. Y una de las cosas que hemos aprendido es que habíamos dejado que nuestro sistema de salud pública en Estados Unidos careciera de fondos y apoyo. Entonces, cuando nos golpeó una pandemia de este tipo, fue realmente un desafío para todos los departamentos de salud estatales y las destacadas y heroicas personas que trabajan allí, tratar de hacer frente a lo que fueron unas demandas increíblemente rápidas y urgentes. No debemos volver a cometer ese error.

La Dra. Walensky es directora de los CDC, y todos los departamentos de salud estatales merecen contar con el tipo de apoyo que será necesario en el futuro para que estemos mejor preparados para este tipo de situaciones. También, desde la perspectiva de la investigación, por lo que hemos aprendido esta vez, reconocemos que podemos seguir adelante y empezar a prepararnos para alguna pandemia futura. Tenemos una idea bastante clara de qué familias de virus podrían estar involucradas la próxima vez, sin duda la influenza sería una de ellas.

Entonces, tal vez haya maneras de que podamos tomar algunas de las primeras medidas de preparación, aunque no las necesitemos, para ser realmente rápidos en la respuesta. Dicho esto, quiero señalar que la respuesta de la comunidad científica a la COVID-19 es absolutamente histórica al haber pasado del reconocimiento de la existencia de este virus el 10 de enero del 2020 a tener dos vacunas aprobadas por la FDA para uso de emergencia en once meses, es aproximadamente cinco veces más rápido de lo que ha sucedido en la historia del planeta y la comunidad científica.

Todas esas personas con las que trabajo, tanto en los centros académicos del Gobierno como en la industria, simplemente hicieron todo lo posible, no se preocuparon por quién obtuvo el crédito o qué se necesitaba hacer. Simplemente lo hicieron. Y por cierto, estamos hablando de todas las terribles tragedias de lo que pasó con esto. Acabo de ver un informe hace dos días en el que todos deberíamos pensar por un momento, que la existencia de esas vacunas hace un año, que es cuando se aprobaron por primera vez, y la oportunidad de que la gente las aproveche, han salvado más de un millón de vidas en Estados Unidos.

Piensen en que un millón de personas están vivas hoy gracias a esas vacunas y se evitaron más de diez millones de hospitalizaciones. Así que hemos hecho mucho. Estamos en un lugar mucho mejor que hace un año. Pero aún no hemos terminado. Por lo tanto, eso debemos ser constantes y persistentes. Y tengan paciencia mientras resolvemos el resto de los detalles para tratar de llevar esta pandemia de COVID-19 19 a los libros de historia.

Bill Walsh: Bueno, hablemos de historia por un segundo. Se anticipó a mi siguiente pregunta y mencionó que las vacunas contra la COVID-19 se pusieron a disposición del público hace exactamente hace un año esta semana. Ahora que la poliomielitis, la tos ferina, el sarampión, las paperas y la varicela han sido casi erradicados mediante vacunas entre estos logros, ¿cómo se comparan las vacunas contra la COVID-19?

Francis Collins: Bueno, son muy seguras y eficaces. Cuando se estaban elaborando, creo que la mayoría de nosotros teníamos la esperanza de que tal vez tuvieran un 70 o 75% de eficacia. Cuando se anunciaron los resultados de esos ensayos hace poco más de un año, la respuesta fue del 95%. Muchas vacunas ni se acercan a eso, la vacuna contra la gripe no tiene esa eficacia, aunque todavía creemos en ella, y también es muy segura.

Así que terminamos con un resultado que fue una respuesta a nuestras plegarias y en el que la ciencia estuvo realmente a la altura de las circunstancias. Y teníamos estas herramientas en la caja de herramientas para abordar básicamente la peor pandemia en más de un siglo. Ahora, como todos sabemos, no resultó ser una victoria tan grande como podríamos haber esperado. Y hubo muchos desafíos en términos de información errónea sobre las vacunas, que persiste hasta el día de hoy.

De modo que aún más de 15 millones de personas en el país aún tienen que recibir su primera dosis de vacuna. Y me preocupo por esas personas todos los días, porque se avecina la variante ómicron. Aunque sabemos que estas vacunas son seguras y eficaces, no ayudan si no se administran. Y hay mucha gente que sigue siendo muy vulnerable; no esperaba que eso fuera a ser un problema.

Eso no sucedió con la polio, ¿verdad? Eso no ocurrió con las vacunas infantiles. Por varias razones, quizá en parte porque nuestra sociedad se ha dividido tanto sobre todo, hemos acabado en una situación en la que las conspiraciones y los rumores y las afirmaciones falsas han asustado a la gente. Si esta noche nos están oyendo personas que han escuchado esas cosas o se han preocupado por ellas, o no están seguras de si estas vacunas se apresuraron o si causan problemas como la infertilidad, miren los datos. Son increíblemente seguras.

No fueron apresuradas hasta el punto de tomar atajos, en absoluto. Lo sé porque estuve en medio de todo eso. No causan infertilidad y no tienen muchas de estas otras cosas de las que quizás hayan escuchado en el circuito de las redes sociales. Si aún no han aprovechado esta intervención para salvar vidas, piénsenlo. Porque hoy en día, alrededor de 1,300 personas han muerto por la COVID-19. Y la mayoría de ellas no estaban vacunadas, y la mayoría de esas muertes no tenían por qué ocurrir.

Bill Walsh: Sí, muertes evitables. Muchas gracias, Dr. Collins. Dra. Walensky, hemos estado hablando mucho sobre refuerzos y vacunas. Quiero hablar un poco sobre los tratamientos contra la COVID-19. Ahora, la FDA pronto podría otorgar una autorización de uso de emergencia a Merck para el tratamiento oral en el hogar para casos leves a moderados de COVID-19. Y le seguirá un segundo medicamento antiviral de Pfizer. ¿Son estos antivirales un sustituto de las vacunas?

Rochelle Walensky: Sí, esta es una pregunta muy importante. Hay dos nuevos medicamentos, el medicamento de Merck, llamado molnupiravir, y el medicamento de Pfizer, llamado paxlovid y… oiremos más sobre ellos, creo que en las próximas semanas. Lo primero que quiero decir es que la mejor manera de estar seguro de tener un resultado realmente bueno es prevenir la enfermedad por completo. Y la mejor manera de hacerlo es vacunarse y luego recibir un refuerzo.

Así que esa es siempre nuestra primera línea de defensa para prevenir la enfermedad por completo. Están llegando estos nuevos medicamentos, que serán una herramienta realmente importante en nuestro arsenal. Lo importante es saber sobre estos dos medicamentos: actúan de forma diferente, evitan las hospitalizaciones y los efectos adversos si se contrae la COVID-19 y se tiene un alto riesgo de padecer una enfermedad grave.

Pero lo importante que deben saber es que deben reconocer sus síntomas temprano, deben saber que tienen COVID-19 muy temprano para que estos medicamentos surtan el mejor efecto posible. Entonces, si tienen síntomas y creen que podrían tener COVID-19, háganse la prueba temprano y acudan a un médico o un proveedor de atención médica pronto, para que, en caso de que se autoricen estos medicamentos, estén disponibles bien temprano en el curso de su enfermedad y así prevenir la hospitalización.

Bill Walsh: Genial, gracias por eso. Ahora es el momento de abordar más preguntas con la Dra. Rochelle Walensky y el Dr. Francis Collins. Como recordatorio, presionen *3 en cualquier momento en el teclado de su teléfono para conectarse con un miembro del personal de AARP y entrar en la cola para hacer su pregunta en vivo. Jesse, volvamos a las líneas. ¿A quién tenemos ahora?

Jesse Salinas: Sí, tenía una pregunta de seguimiento de Bill en Facebook sobre las vacaciones. “Si quiero que mi familia se someta a una prueba de COVID-19 en el hogar antes de venir durante las vacaciones, ¿[la prueba] reconoce la variante ómicron?”

Bill Walsh: Bueno, esa es una pregunta oportuna, Dr. Collins, ¿puede abordar eso?

Francis Collins: Esa es una pregunta totalmente oportuna. Y, por supuesto, ómicron acaba de llegar a EE.UU. Por lo tanto, tenemos muy poca experiencia hasta ahora en probarlo con estas pruebas caseras. Pero en realidad, todo un equipo que trabaja con los NIH y la FDA probablemente esté trabajando esta noche para tratar de responder esa pregunta. Las diferencias entre ómicron y el virus original en el área donde funcionan las pruebas caseras no son particularmente grandes, pero queremos estar seguros, así que estén atentos, deberíamos tener una mejor respuesta a eso en los próximos dos o tres días.

Bill Walsh: Muy bien. Gracias por eso. Jesse, ¿a quién tenemos ahora?

Jesse Salinas: La siguiente pregunta viene de Denise en Washington.

Bill Walsh: Hola, Denise, bienvenida a nuestro programa. Continúe con su pregunta.

Denise: Está bien, gracias. Gracias, doctores, por todo el trabajo que están haciendo. Mi pregunta es, estoy completamente vacunada y es posible que tenga que tomar un vuelo de aproximadamente una hora para ayudar a cuidar a mi padre de 90 años que está completamente vacunado. Sin embargo, dos de las personas que viven en el hogar no están vacunadas. Así que me pregunto, en primer lugar, ¿es imprudente hacerlo? Y en segundo lugar, ¿hay algo que pueda hacer para tratar de mantenerme lo más segura posible mientras cuido a mi padre durante unas dos semanas?

Bill Walsh: Gracias por esa pregunta. Dra. Walensky, los CDC han publicado muchas orientaciones sobre viajes. ¿Puede abordar esta pregunta?

Rochelle Walensky: Sí, creo que hay muchas cosas que podemos alentarle a hacer en esa situación. En primer lugar, si es posible, intente recibir el refuerzo antes de viajar, si cumple con los requisitos para recibir un refuerzo seis meses luego de una vacuna de ARNm, entonces le aconsejo absolutamente que reciba el refuerzo lo antes posible antes de viajar. Si puede conseguir el refuerzo para su padre, también sería genial. Realmente queremos asegurarnos de que las personas que tienen mayor riesgo de contraer enfermedades, y creo que eso incluiría a su padre de 90 años, reciban un refuerzo.

Realmente animaría a las personas que lo cuidan a que intervenga para que se vacunen, y eso puede ser simplemente escuchándolos y entendiendo cuáles son sus preocupaciones, y proporcionándoles información, proporcionándoles recursos, proporcionándoles números de teléfono que sean sus fuentes de confianza, para que se sientan seguros al vacunarse. Porque si no están vacunados, eso pone a su padre en riesgo de contraer una enfermedad.

Y luego, finalmente, si las personas no están vacunadas, están fuera de casa, es mejor que usen mascarilla mientras cuidan a su padre. Para usted, al subir al avión, recomendamos sin duda que las personas de todos los medios de transporte lleven mascarilla todo el tiempo. Así que hágalo durante sus viajes. Y, por supuesto, si se encuentra en lugares públicos cerrados durante sus viajes, no deje de llevar mascarilla en esos sitios.

Bill Walsh: Dra. Walensky, permítame continuar con lo que mencionó sobre una situación en la que podría encontrarse con personas, miembros de la familia que en realidad no están vacunados. ¿Tiene algún consejo sobre cómo hablar con las personas que no están vacunadas para animarlas a que se pongan la vacuna sin ser conflictivo?

Rochelle Walensky: Sí, Bill. Creo que esta es una pregunta muy importante. Y cuando la gente pregunta, ¿cómo hablo con ellos? La respuesta es más bien escuchar. Porque ya saben, a menudo se puede, generalmente hay un interés común. Creo que todos estamos de acuerdo en que queremos estar a salvo, todos estamos de acuerdo en que queremos que esta pandemia termine, todos estamos de acuerdo en que no queremos que ninguno de nuestros seres queridos resulte afectado.

Entonces, la verdadera pregunta es ¿qué se interpone en su camino? ¿Por qué ha elegido eso, cuando ha habido tantos datos y tanta seguridad, y datos que demuestran que es 14 veces más probable que uno fallezca por COVID-19 si no está vacunado? Con todos esos datos, ¿qué lo detuvo? Y luego empieza a tener un diálogo. Y a veces es más de una conversación.

A veces se trata de preguntar ¿con quién ha hablado? ¿Ha hablado con personas que se han vacunado? ¿Ha hablado con la gente sobre sus preocupaciones? Y tratar de tener múltiples conversaciones para llevar a la gente a entender cuáles son sus desafíos y por qué han decidido, tomado esa decisión, para ver si puedes guiarlos a un punto mejor.

Bill Walsh: Muy bien. Muchas gracias. Jesse, volvamos a las líneas. ¿A quién tenemos ahora?

Jesse Salinas: Sí, recibimos muchas preguntas en las redes sociales, Bill. Tengo una pregunta de Mike en Facebook, y él dice: ¿Estamos más cerca de la inmunidad colectiva en EE.UU.? ¿Y eso importa siquiera?

Bill Walsh: ¿Inmunidad colectiva? Es algo de lo que hemos oído hablar durante mucho tiempo. Dr. Collins, ¿puede arrojar algo de luz sobre eso?

Francis Collins: Bueno, intentaré, ciertamente es un término que ha confundido a mucha gente. Y es un desafío con un virus como este, que sigue cambiando de escudo. Si de alguna manera hubiéramos podido controlar el virus original fuera de Wuhan, China, de modo que no tuviera la oportunidad de mutar y convertirse en alfa, beta, delta y ómicron, entonces la inmunidad colectiva tendría más sentido, porque simplemente está enfrentando a un enemigo en particular.

Pero ahora tenemos todo este ejército de versiones diferentes de SARS-CoV-2, y está bastante claro que la inmunidad contra una no se transmite completamente a la siguiente. Sin embargo, es evidente que cuanto mayor sea la proporción de la población que se ha vacunado, y especialmente si han recibido un refuerzo, o si se han infectado de forma natural y se han vacunado además, si se puede llegar a algo así como el 90%, entonces todos los modelos dirían que empieza a parecerse a la inmunidad de rebaño, que empieza a hacer que el virus pierda su control y ya no sea capaz de seguir celebrando las fiestas que está celebrando ahora en todos lados.

Estamos muy por debajo de eso, por mucho que hemos intentado en este país poner las vacunas, solo alrededor del 60% de nuestra población está completamente inmunizada y ha recibido las dos dosis completas de Pfizer o Moderna o una de J&J. Así que estamos muy por debajo de lo que sea ese umbral mágico. Todavía no estamos muy seguros de dónde está, pero sabemos que no estamos en ese punto.

Bill Walsh: Está bien. Muchas gracias. Jesse, ¿a quién tenemos ahora?

Jesse Salinas: Voy a tomar una más de Facebook. Este es Joe Dell. Él dice: "Mi esposo y yo hemos tenido COVID-19 temprano, pero hemos sido de los que tienen efectos prolongados y hemos tenido ese tipo de problemas. ¿Se están realizando investigaciones sobre problemas de largo plazo? ¿Y cuáles son sus remedios, si los hay?

Bill Walsh: Dr. Collins, usted es un experto en investigación, ¿puede abordar la COVID-19 a largo plazo y lo que se está analizando allí?

Francis Collins: Me alegra que se haya planteado la pregunta porque es un tema realmente importante y esa es una razón más para vacunarse y recibir un refuerzo porque tampoco querrán tener COVID-19 prolongada. Y esto le sucede a una cierta proporción de personas que han tenido la enfermedad aguda original, y simplemente no mejoran de la forma esperada en el transcurso de un par de semanas.

Una parte importante, cuatro o cinco, seis semanas después, sigue sufriendo -algunos de ellos por la fatiga; otros hablan de confusión mental, en la que está un poco difusa la capacidad de pensar con claridad, lo que dificulta hacer el trabajo o cuidar de la familia o estar en la escuela. No entendemos el mecanismo por el que este virus puede causar ese tipo de síntomas a largo plazo, pero está claro que son muy comunes y muy reales.

En los NIH, hemos montado un estudio a gran escala de 40,000 personas para tratar de comprender mejor lo que está causando esto, cómo prevenirlo y luego cómo tratar a las personas que lo padecen. Porque en este momento, realmente no sabemos lo suficiente como para saber qué probar. Y eso tendrá un gran empuje en los próximos meses.

Y ciertamente nos alienta la cantidad de personas que estuvieron dispuestas a inscribirse en ese tipo de estudio y nos permitieron aprender de ellas para que, en última instancia, podamos comprenderlo, porque es como un cuento largo, realmente serio e inesperado, sobre la forma en que la COVID-19 nos está afectando.

Bill Walsh: Me pregunto si los medicamentos antivirales de los que acaba de hablar la Dra. Walensky han demostrado alguna eficacia para tratar los síntomas de larga duración.

Francis Collins: No creo que tengamos datos todavía sobre esa situación. Y eso es algo muy importante para tener en cuenta. Hay personas con COVID-19 prolongada, cuyos síntomas han mejorado considerablemente después de vacunarse, lo que sugiere que tal vez todavía tengan una enfermedad persistente con el virus escondido en algún lugar de su sistema, aunque no podamos encontrarlo. Pero no sé qué pasará con los medicamentos antivirales. Será muy interesante intentarlo una vez que sepamos que es apropiado hacerlo.

Bill Walsh: Bien, muchas gracias. Jesse, ¿a quién tenemos ahora?

Jesse Salinas: Vamos a traer a Teresa de Arkansas.

Bill Walsh: Hola, Teresa, bienvenida a nuestro programa. Continúe con su pregunta.

Teresa: Gracias. Mi pregunta es sobre mi madre de 98 años, soy su cuidadora. En marzo se contagió de COVID-19. Y esperamos hasta el 18 de junio para darle la primera vacuna de Pfizer. Y la segunda se le puso el 9 de julio, también de Pfizer. Mi pregunta es, ¿sigue esperando seis meses para recibir el refuerzo y deberíamos continuar con el refuerzo de Pfizer? ¿Recomienda alguna otra?

Bill Walsh: Esa es una gran pregunta. Dejemos que la Dra. Rochelle Walensky responda. Dra. Walensky.

Rochelle Walensky: Sí, con gusto. Me alegro de que su mamá terminó bien, después de su contagio de COVID-19. Y lo que yo diría es que ahora mismo nuestras recomendaciones son esperar esos seis meses, así que ya casi está ahí, y por lo tanto debería recibir su refuerzo bastante cerca de esa marca de seis meses, y tan pronto como se pueda. Y luego, lo que yo diría es que si le fue bien con las dos vacunas de Pfizer, diría que se pusiera la tercera dosis de Pfizer. Realmente no tenemos una recomendación firme sobre cuál obtener. Pero si le fue bien con las dos primeras, no hay razón para cambiar.

Bill Walsh: Bien, muchas gracias por eso. Jesse, ¿a quién tenemos ahora en la línea?

Jesse Salinas: Nuestra próxima llamada es de Elizabeth de California.

Bill Walsh: Hola, Elizabeth, bienvenida a nuestro programa. Continúe con su pregunta.

Elizabeth: Muy bien, muchas gracias por su participación. Tengo una pregunta sobre las pruebas caseras. Me preguntaba si hay algún tipo de prueba casera que recomendarían en cuanto a la marca. Y también si pueden dar información sobre las pruebas caseras gratuitas.

Bill Walsh: Dr. Collins, ¿quiere abordar las pruebas en el hogar?

Francis Collins: Claro. Las pruebas caseras que se pueden obtener en la farmacia o en línea han sido evaluadas por la FDA y se les ha otorgado una autorización de uso de emergencia. Eso significa que que tienen la sensibilidad adecuada para darle una respuesta confiable. Las más utilizadas que puede encontrar son la Abbot BinaxNOW, la Clydesdale Quick View, la llamada Illume. Todas se desempeñan muy bien. Como mencioné anteriormente, nos estamos asegurando de que también detectarán ómicron, pero soy bastante optimista de que lo harán. Entonces todas esas son buenas. Ahora, preguntó acerca de las pruebas caseras gratuitas.

En los NIH estamos llevando a cabo un proyecto piloto en unos nueve lugares para ver cómo resultaría si se hiciera posible que la gente de una comunidad que tiene un riesgo particularmente alto de COVID-19 pidiera básicamente pruebas caseras en internet y las recibiera gratis en su casa al día siguiente por parte de Amazon, y eso parece ser algo en lo que la gente está realmente interesada. Así que estamos considerando qué hacer a continuación al respecto. Obviamente, sería una gran inversión nacional en términos de costo. Pero podría tener sentido dado que esta pandemia sigue causando tantos problemas en toda nuestra nación.

Bill Walsh: Bien, gracias por eso. Jesse. Tomemos a otro oyente.

Jesse Salinas: Vamos con Tony de Carolina del Norte.

Bill Walsh: Hola, Tony, bienvenido a nuestro programa. Continúe con su pregunta.

Tony: Hola, gracias por atenderme. Mi pregunta es para los CDC o los investigadores que están en condiciones de saber cuál es el objetivo final de todo esto. ¿En algún momento terminará o tendremos que recibir estas inyecciones anualmente? Porque había leído hace un tiempo que la gripe española que mató a tanta gente había mutado hasta el punto de que ya no nos afectaba. Me preguntaba, ¿hay un final de juego?

Bill Walsh: Dra. Walensky, me pregunto si podría opinar sobre eso, tal vez Dr. Collins, ¿quiere hablar también?

Rochelle Walensky: Tony, estamos con usted, estamos muy interesados ​​en ver cómo podemos llevar esto al final del juego. Mencionaré algunas cosas. Una es que realmente nos gustaría llegar al final del juego donde tengamos suficiente protección inmunitaria en toda la población, que las personas ya no se vean gravemente afectadas por ninguna de las variantes. Y es se logra porque las personas se infectan o porque están vacunadas.

Por supuesto, nos encantaría hacerlo mediante la vacunación para que no tengamos resultados adversos graves de la enfermedad en sí. Y creo que una vez que tengamos suficiente de esa protección inmunitaria, eventualmente tendremos resultados de enfermedades cada vez menos graves, alcanzaremos un nivel en el que tendremos cada vez menos enfermedades en general.

En términos de la pregunta sobre si seguiremos necesitando estos refuerzos de vacunas, aún no tenemos la ciencia para informar eso. Pero lo que diré es que tenemos muchas vacunas que requieren una dosis, una segunda dosis un mes después y una dosis a los seis meses, por ejemplo, las vacunas contra la hepatitis B tienen ese tipo de serie.

Por lo tanto, existen ejemplos de vacunas en las que sí necesita ese refuerzo para la protección inmunitaria a largo plazo, pero no necesita una vacuna frecuente todos los años como sucede con la vacuna contra la gripe. Así que continuaremos contando con la ayuda científica para informarnos de eso. Pero no es necesariamente un hecho que tenga que ser así.

Bill Walsh: Está bien, Dr. Collins, ¿quería opinar sobre eso?

Francis Collins: La Dra. Walensky tiene toda la razón en cuanto a lo que tenemos que hacer para intentar maximizar las posibilidades de eliminar este virus. Sin embargo, permítanme agregar otra cosa, y es que, a menos que inmunicemos también al resto del planeta, el virus continuará teniendo sus fiestas, y, en el proceso, desarrollará variantes adicionales que podrían surgir nuevamente y presentar un desafío.

Así que tenemos desde el interés propio, el interés propio esclarecido, un compromiso realmente serio para asegurarnos de que el resto del planeta también tenga la oportunidad de inmunizarse. Y yendo más allá de eso, creo que muchos de los que pensamos en todas esas personas en esos países, también son familia, deberíamos estar haciendo todo lo posible para tratar de brindarles este tipo de protección que ahora tenemos gratis aquí en este país.

Estados Unidos ha hecho más que todos los demás países del mundo juntos para que las dosis de vacunas estén disponibles para las personas en países de ingresos bajos y medianos. Ahora se han comprometido más de mil millones y ya se han enviado alrededor de 300 millones. Y debemos continuar haciéndolo porque el verdadero final de la COVID-19 no llegará fácilmente si todavía hay muchos lugares donde el virus puede continuar propagándose porque las personas aún no han tenido la oportunidad de vacunarse. Esto no es lo mejor para nosotros.

Rochelle Walensky: Eso es absolutamente cierto. Y el dicho lo dice: "Nadie está a salvo, hasta que todos estemos a salvo".

Bill Walsh: Bien, gracias a ambos por eso. Y Dr. Collins, estaba hablando de finales. Ha tenido una carrera distinguida en el servicio público para los residentes de EE.UU. bajo tres presidentes, lidera el Proyecto de Genoma Humano y ganó la Medalla Presidencial de la Libertad. Recientemente anunció que dejará el cargo mañana, su último día en los Institutos Nacionales de Salud. ¿Qué sigue para usted?

Francis Collins: Bueno, 12 años es mucho tiempo para desempeñar este cargo. Ha sido un privilegio increíble. Pero creo que las organizaciones científicas necesitan una nueva visión y un nuevo liderazgo. Entonces, el presidente tendrá la oportunidad de nombrar a una persona excelente para que intervenga y sea el próximo líder. Y los NIH están en una posición muy sólida en este momento para continuar la lucha contra la COVID-19 y todas estas otras cosas como el cáncer, la diabetes y las enfermedades cardíacas, por lo que somos el principal patrocinador de la investigación para todo el mundo.

Así que soy increíblemente afortunado de haber desempeñado este cargo. Regresaré a mi laboratorio de investigación y trabajaré en la diabetes, que es un área que creo que está lista para algunos avances importantes, así como una enfermedad rara que causa el envejecimiento prematuro llamada progeria, donde creo que tenemos una oportunidad con terapia génica, tal vez para ayudar y tal vez incluso curar a estos niños que padecen esta afección. Va a ser interesante. No estoy muy seguro de qué voy a hacer cuando sea mayor. Voy a descubrirlo en el transcurso del año siguiente.

Bill Walsh: Está bien. Bueno, buena suerte con eso. Y gracias a ambos por estar con nosotros esta noche y responder a todas nuestras preguntas. Esta ha sido una discusión realmente informativa. Y gracias a nuestros miembros, voluntarios y oyentes de AARP por participar en la discusión.

AARP, una organización de membresía sin fines de lucro y no partidista, ha estado trabajando para promover la salud y el bienestar de los estadounidenses mayores durante más de 60 años. Frente a esta crisis, estamos brindando información y recursos para ayudar a los adultos mayores y a quienes los cuidan a protegerse del virus y a prevenir la propagación a otras personas mientras se cuidan a sí mismos.

Ahora, todos los recursos a los que se hizo referencia aquí hoy, incluida una grabación del evento de preguntas y respuestas, se podrán encontrar en aarp.org/coronavirus el 17 de diciembre. Una vez más, esa dirección web es aarp.org/coronavirus. Vayan allí si su pregunta no fue respondida, y encontrarán las últimas actualizaciones, así como información creada específicamente para adultos mayores y cuidadores familiares.

Esperamos que hayan aprendido algo que pueda ayudarlos a ustedes y a sus seres queridos a mantenerse saludables. Sintonicen nuestro próximo evento de coronavirus en vivo en enero del 2022. AARP les desea a todos una feliz y una segura temporada navideña. Gracias, que tengan un buen día. Con esto concluye nuestra llamada.

Coronavirus: What You Need to Know About Boosters, Vaccines & Variants

featuring special guests:

Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, Director of the CDC, and Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the NIH

Listen to a replay of the live event above.

Join AARP for an event with Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, Director of the CDC, and Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the NIH. They address your questions and discuss the latest information on COVID boosters, vaccines, variants and guidelines, and how to stay safe and protected during the holiday season.

The Experts:

Rochelle P. Walensky, M.D., M.P.H.
Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, National Institutes of Health


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


Replay previous AARP Coronavirus Tele-Town Halls

  • 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