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AARP Coronavirus Tele-Town Hall From June 2

Experts answer your questions related to COVID-19

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

[Instructions in Spanish]

 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 the summer begins and pre-pandemic activities and travel resume, Americans are embracing a renewed sense of normalcy. While many are learning to live with COVID, many still have questions and concerns related to the overall health and safety, as well as the effectiveness of boosters and antiviral treatments. And millions of older Americans with no access to broadband internet are at a considerable disadvantage when it comes to accessing real-time COVID information or taking part in telehealth appointments with medical professionals, which have soared in popularity during the pandemic.

Today we’ll hear from an impressive panel of experts about these issues and more. We’ll also get an update from Capitol Hill on legislation affecting older Americans. If you’ve participated in one of our tele-town halls before, you know this is similar to a radio talk show, and you have the opportunity to ask your question live. For those of you joining us on the phone, if you’d like to ask a question about the pandemic, press *3 on your telephone and you’ll be connected with an AARP staff member who will note your name and question and place you in a queue to ask that question live. If you’re joining on Facebook or YouTube, you can post your question in the comments.

Hello, if you’re just joining, I’m Bill Walsh with AARP, and I want to welcome you to this important discussion about the global coronavirus pandemic. We’re talking with leading experts and taking your questions live. To ask your question, please press *3 on your telephone keypad, and if you're joining on Facebook or YouTube, you can drop your question in the comments section. We have some outstanding guests joining us today, including a chief medical doctor, as well as the chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission. 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 a recording at aarp.org/coronavirus 24 hours after we wrap up. Again, to ask your question, please press *3 at any time on your telephone keypad to be connected with an AARP staff member, or if you're joining on Facebook or YouTube, drop your question in the comments section.

Now I'd like to welcome our guests. Anand Parekh, M.D. and Master of Public Health, is the chief medical adviser with the Bipartisan Policy Center. Welcome, Dr. Parekh.

Anand Parekh: Thank you, Bill. Great to be with you and AARP.

Bill Walsh: Thanks for being here. Our other guest is Jessica Rosenworcel. She is the chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission, and she will be joining us just a bit later. As a reminder, to ask your question of our two experts, please press *3 on your telephone keypad, or you can drop it in the comments section on Facebook or YouTube. Let's go ahead and get started. Dr. Parekh, let's quickly review the basics about COVID-19 boosters. How do the vaccine boosters work, and why do they matter so much?

Anand Parekh: Bill, thanks for that question. Boosters are essentially additional doses of vaccine, and they do just that: They boost immunity. They are identical to the previous shots that someone has taken; in many cases they're the same exact dose. And the latest research has shown that during this Omicron wave, getting a booster versus — not just getting the initial two shots — significantly reduced both hospitalizations as well as death. So I think we need to think about these boosters as simply being up to date with vaccines, just the same way that we get an annual flu shot, the same way if you get your shingles vaccine, you need a second dose a few months later. I think we need to think of it the same way. You're not getting extra shots because the initial shots don't work. You're simply getting additional shots in boosters because it protects you further from severe illness and death.

Bill Walsh: Now we know that about a third of vaccinated adults haven't had a booster, and the Kaiser Family Foundation's COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor found that 56 percent felt they had had enough protection from the vaccine already, 39 percent didn't think boosters were that effective, and 46 percent think that either vaccines don't work or they had bad side effects when they got the original dose. What's going on here, and what can be done to encourage people to get boosters?

Anand Parekh: This is such an important issue because you're exactly right. Again, 95 percent of seniors have received one dose, 91 percent have received two doses, but then when you ask about the booster, that third shot, it drops down to 69 percent. So there's a significant drop-off. And many of the reasons you mentioned are what we hear. I think what's important, again, to remember is that there is waning of immunity. And the most important thing we can do is to protect against severe illness. That's why vaccines and boosters are so important. You're also more likely to be reinfected with COVID without being up to date with vaccinations. It's also important to remember that though these vaccines prevent severe illness, they can also reduce — they might not a hundred percent prevent — but they will also reduce the chances of getting infected. Now most people are vaccinated, so you're going to see more infections in the vaccinated population. But again, that doesn't mean that these initial vaccinations don't work. It simply means that they're doing their job in preventing severe illness and hospitalizations. And finally, again, we've had a lot of data now about the safety of these vaccines and boosters, hundreds of millions of doses administered in the United States, billions around the world. It's been about 18 months since the initial set of vaccinations for many people, so we have some long-term data now. So these are safe and effective vaccines. And in terms of side effects, there's really no correlation between if you had some side effects after the first or second shot, that you'll get a side effect after the booster. And if you do, these are all also time-limited side effects, either localized or some fatigue and muscle aches and fever that individuals will get better soon. So again, I think these are vaccines and boosters that are safe, they are effective, they are free. And I think, Bill, we need the same urgency just like we did with those first two vaccines in the primary series. We need the same urgency to ensure that older adults get boosted because this is important, again, to prevent hospitalization, deaths, severe illness, as well as reinfection.

Bill Walsh: Well, thanks for that, and let's talk about infection rates. We actually seem to be experiencing an invisible COVID surge at the moment, in part due to COVID fatigue and the proliferation of at-home tests and low hospitalizations. Are there any risks to ignoring the current surge of the omicron BA.2 variant?

Anand Parekh: I think it's really important that we all stay vigilant, particularly older adults. Now if you look in the United States right now, we have about 100,000 documented cases every day. That is likely an underestimate by four or five-fold for the reasons that you mentioned. We have about 300 Americans dying daily; these are mostly older adults. The hospitalization rate in the 70+ year subgroup is increasing. And so I think it's, again, really important that older adults in particular are up to date with vaccinations being boosted, that they know how to access tests, that they know when they should be wearing masks, that they know if they do test positive, how to access treatments as well. And so, again, very, very important as we proceed this year. In the summer I'm concerned about the southern United States, particularly the southeastern part, Bill, of the United States, where booster rates are lower. And then certainly in the fall and winter in the northern states. So again, really important that we continue to stay vigilant and protect those who are most vulnerable.

Bill Walsh: Thanks for that, Dr. Parekh. Let's talk about folks who have had COVID and may have heard the term long COVID. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that so-called long COVID may affect 30 percent of people who contract the virus. Is there any test for long COVID, and how do physicians diagnose and treat this condition? I'm wondering what some of the most common symptoms are.

Anand Parekh: Yeah, there is an incredible amount of research right now, going to better define this condition called long COVID as well as to come up with diagnostic tests — right now there is not a diagnostic test — also to come up with treatments. Essentially what long COVID is, is we're seeing that a certain percentage of individuals with COVID are having persistent symptoms more than four to eight weeks out. So these are symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, headache, dizziness. And for many people, these can be quite debilitating. For some, these may resolve over time; for others we just don't know yet. And so I think we're going to have to sort of wait and see, better understand this illness, this syndrome, and researchers are right now trying to do exactly that, come up with diagnostic tests as well as then coming up with solutions so we can tend to the symptoms that people are having. But I think the most important point again here is the best way to avoid long COVID, once again, is to get vaccinated. And of course the best way to avoid long COVID is also to ensure that we are not infected or reinfected in the first place.

Bill Walsh: All right. Very good. It's now time to address your questions about the coronavirus with Dr. Anand Parekh. He is the chief medical officer with the Bipartisan Policy Center. To ask your question, press *3 at any time on your telephone keypad and you'll be connected with an AARP staff member to share your question live. And if you'd like to listen to this program in Spanish, press *0 on your telephone keypad now.

[Instructions in Spanish]

 I'd now like to bring in my AARP colleague Jesse Salinas to help facilitate your calls today. Welcome, Jesse.

Jesse Salinas: Good to be here, Bill.

Bill Walsh: All right, who do we have first online today?

Jesse Salinas: Our first caller today is Estella from Wisconsin.

Bill Walsh: Hey, Estella, welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question for the doctor.

Estella: Hi, good afternoon. My question is, I’ve had all four of my shots, and I was wondering if there's going to be an additional shot, and is this virus mutating?

Bill Walsh: That's a great question. Dr. Parekh, can you address that for Estella?

Anand Parekh: Sure, a very important question. So the coronavirus is doing what viruses do, which is mutate over time, and we're seeing that right now. We had the omicron variant earlier this year, and now we have subvariants of that omicron. You'll hear on the news: BA.2, 12.1, BA.4, BA.5. So all of these subvariants, and essentially the virus is adapting over time, and that's why there is a lot of research ongoing now to try to make a better vaccine, one that is better matched to the omicron variants, since that's really what is circulating around right now. And many manufacturers, including Moderna, who just made some news yesterday, believe that they are close to coming up with a vaccine that is better against the omicron variant than the original vaccine. So it could very well be that by the fall there may be a newer vaccine that is better targeted to the omicron variant to offer us more protection for the upcoming fall and winter. So stay tuned on that front. I think that's a pretty important development and something that we should expect. That's what we expect of, for example, flu shots every year. Every year, we try to see what's circulating, come up with a better flu shot that’s more targeted, and we get a little bit of a different flu shot. So nothing different than that, but an important development that we should watch for.

Bill Walsh: Now Estella said she had four shots and wondered whether there were more in her future. Do you expect that like the flu, the annual flu vaccine, that we're going to be all getting annual COVID doses?

Anand Parekh: You know I think there will be some regularity here, Bill. We just don't know exactly whether the frequency will be annual like it is with the flu shot, or will it be sooner than that? Will it be a longer duration? So that's exactly, I think over time, over the next few months and years, we'll be better able to gauge exactly what that frequency should be.

Bill Walsh: Okay. All right, very good. Jesse, let's go back to the lines.

Jesse Salinas: Yeah, this next question comes from Facebook. It's from Yvonne, and she says, "How is, how do people determine [inaudible] the need for the next booster, and it is possible will we become immune to this by some point?"

Bill Walsh: Did you hear that question, Doctor?

Anand Parekh: Bits and pieces. If Jessie could just repeat that or Bill.

Bill Walsh: Go ahead, Jessie.

Jesse Salinas: Yeah, so we'll try again. It's Yvonne, and her question is, "How did they determine the need for this booster, and is there a point where we become immune to this virus?"

Bill Walsh: So the question was about how do they determine the need for the booster? And at some point, do you think we'll all become immune to this?

Anand Parekh: That's a great question. And so what they do, Yvonne, is over time, they are able to track what are called antibody levels in your blood to get a sense partially of your immunity. And they also track hospitalizations and deaths and are able to stratify based on how many doses you have. And so if they start to see antibody levels dropping, if they start to see hospitalizations and deaths go up, then that's an indication that immunity is waning, and additional protection is needed to protect people from severe illness and death. And that's really what a booster is all about, to counter that natural waning of immunity. And so, again, the timing here is based on research as well as data coming from really not just here in the United States but around the world.

Bill Walsh: Okay, very good. Thank you, Doctor. Let's go back to the lines. Jesse, who do we have up next?

Jesse Salinas: Our next caller is Anthony from New Jersey.

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

Anthony: Yeah, the question is related to reinfection. I was wondering how common it is, and if it is a function of age.

Bill Walsh: That's a great question. Dr. Parekh, can you address that?

Anand Parekh: It seems like reinfection risk is increasing right now, in particular because although many individuals were infected around the wintertime with the omicron variant, these subvariants that are there right now, don't seem to be completely protected by that immunity. So there are a wide number of people right now being reinfected because these new variants have something that's called immune escape. Essentially meaning that, again, the immunity has either waned or this new subvariant is escaping current immunity. And so, again, another reason just to be up to date with vaccinations because that will reduce the likelihood of being reinfected with any subvariants.

Bill Walsh: And now Anthony had asked whether the chances of reinfection go up based on your age. Is there any connection there?

Anand Parekh: Not really a connection related to reinfection. Certainly age and severe illness, hospitalization and deaths, there's an absolute strong correlation there. But in terms of infection, no real correlation there.

Bill Walsh: Okay, thank you very much, Doctor. Let's go back to the phone lines. Jesse, who do we have up next?

Jesse Salinas: Our next caller is going to be Lynn from California.

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

Lynn: Okay, my question is, if you had asymptomatic COVID, meaning you exhibited no signs of having the disease, is it still possible that you could experience long COVID?

Bill Walsh: That's a very interesting question. Dr. Parekh, do we know the answer to that yet?

Anand Parekh: In general, the studies have shown that you're more likely to get long COVID if you've had a bout of severe illness. That being said, there have been cases of long COVID in individuals who have had either no or mild symptoms as well. So that's, again, one of the things that we're learning about long COVID. It can really impact anyone who has had COVID in the past, whether they're bout has been mild or severe.

Bill Walsh: You had talked about this a little bit earlier, but what should our listeners know about long COVID? What are the most common symptoms they should be looking for, and what should they do if they think they might be suffering from that?

Anand Parekh: Usually after a viral infection, it takes a couple of weeks for that cough to go away, that shortness of breath to go away, that fatigue to go away. But if you are a month or two out, and you are still having many of those symptoms — it could be headache, it could be dizziness, unexplained symptoms, whether mild or debilitating — then it's really important to have an appointment with your health care professional, health care provider to go over your symptoms to see whether indeed you have something like long COVID. So it's really for individuals who are past four weeks, four to eight weeks, have persistent symptoms, and that's who we're really thinking about in terms of who has long COVID.

Bill Walsh: Got it, okay, thank you. Jesse, who do we have up next?

Jesse Salinas: The next question is from Sharon on YouTube, and she says, "I had two Pfizer vaccines, and then a booster in September of 2021. I then got COVID in January of 2022. When should I time getting my second booster?

Bill Walsh: Dr. Parekh?

Anand Parekh: So it's a great question, one that's asked often, and really the answer is there's no perfect time to quote, unquote time a vaccine. Once you are eligible for receiving that second booster, and it's usually four months after the first booster, you should go ahead and get it to be up to date with your vaccination. Again, even if you've had COVID, that immunity wanes, and being up to date with your boosters and vaccinations will reduce the chance of reinfection as well as maximally protect you against severe illness. So instead of timing it, if you're eligible, you should likely just go ahead and get your second booster.

Bill Walsh: Now Sharon of course had been vaccinated and boosted and still got COVID. What do you say to people who have some skepticism of either the vaccines or the boosters or both? Because they could still get COVID.

Anand Parekh: Yeah, a very important point and, again, and as we talked about with the Kaiser Family Foundation data here, just because you have an infection, that doesn't mean that the vaccines don't work. The purpose of the vaccine is to prevent hospitalization, death and severe illness. Now the vaccines also reduce the chance that you get infected in the first place, but they're not going to 100 percent prevent you from getting infected. And so I think that's really important to note, and again, the reason to get a booster is not an indication that the initial vaccines failed. It's simply an indication, just like with all the other vaccines we get that over time, we need to boost our immune system to maximally protect us.

Bill Walsh: Okay, Doctor, thank you very much. And thanks for all those questions. We are going to take more live questions shortly. And remember, if you'd like to ask a question, please press *3 on your telephone keypad at any time, or drop your comments, your question in the comments section of Facebook or YouTube.

Now I'd like to welcome our special guest, Jessica Rosenworcel. She is the chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC is an extremely influential federal agency that regulates communication by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable all across the nation. Thank you so much for being with us today, chairwoman Rosenworcel.

Jessica Rosenworcel: Thank you for having me.

Bill Walsh: All right. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that passed last year includes funding to help provide high-speed internet to more Americans. What did the law do, and why is reliable internet access essential for older adults in particular?

Jessica Rosenworcel: That's a great question, but when I talk about this, the first thing I like to do is talk about the pandemic. And the truth is the last two years, we've all been asked to mask up, hunker down and go online for so much of modern life. We saw work, education and health care migrate to online platforms. And so it's become more important than ever before that we get every household, everywhere, reliable and consistent broadband access. And I think that goes for young and old alike, but when it comes to older adults, I think that we're going to see a lot of the telemedicine policies and practices that were adopted during the pandemic are going to continue when we get to the other side. And I think that's going to make health care more accessible for a lot of older Americans.

Bill Walsh: Well, let me follow up on that. A recent study that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Network Open found that us communities with limited internet access reported higher COVID-19 death rates during the first year of the pandemic. Why was this, and how is broadband access related to public health?

Jessica Rosenworcel: I think that the relationship between broadband access and public health is growing, and that article you mentioned in the Journal of the American Medical Association is really intriguing. What we've come to recognize is that internet access is a gateway to information, resources and support. It's where we go to figure out when we need a COVID shot, where those COVID shots are available, how we can sign up for follow-up appointments with our doctors, our physicians, our nurse practitioners, the people we rely on for basic medical care. And it feels to me like you're going to be able to access a whole world of information and resources and care if you've got access to the world online at home. And if you don't, you're going to be cut off from that, and that online world and its influence on our day-to-day is only going to grow.

Bill Walsh: Yeah. Well, let's dig into that a little bit. You know, more than two decades ago, the Pew Research Center began collecting data about Americans' internet access, and researchers found large gaps, particularly among older Americans, low-income people, multicultural populations, people with less education and those who live in rural areas. While there's been improvement, for sure, internet access remains inequitable today. And, of course, we call this the digital divide. Can you explain why this divide still exists?

Jessica Rosenworcel: I think that the digital divide — and by that we mean those who have access to reliable and consistent broadband and those that don't — I think that that divide has two components. And I think that when we talk about it, we should be really mindful of that. The first component got a lot of attention during the last few years. We talk about rural areas of the country where the infrastructure necessary to provide high-speed broadband to homes and businesses may not be present. That's a problem. We got to build that infrastructure out, just like a century ago we built out the infrastructure that brought electricity to our most remote communities. This is on par with that infrastructure challenge a hundred years ago. And the good news is Congress has set aside a lot of money to do that in all of these COVID relief packages and all of this COVID-related legislation and in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill. We've got billions of dollars to help build that infrastructure in the rural communities that today don't have it. But that's only one part of digital divide. Like I said, there are two parts. The second part is really about affordability. And I think until recently, the United States ignored that second piece. But that second piece is really important, because we have low-income households with young people and old people who are struggling right now to pay for gas, to pay for groceries, and keeping reliable, consistent broadband in their home might fall by the wayside. So now, as a result of all that COVID-related legislation, we have programs to help make sure every household can afford broadband, much like we have programs to help with basic telephony, electricity and other infrastructure necessities that are really key for modern life. So I think of the digital divide as having those two components: rural infrastructure but also affordability.

Bill Walsh: Well, let's dig into both of those dimensions. We were talking a little bit earlier about the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and among other things, it tasks the FCC with creating the Affordable Connectivity Program. Can you talk a little bit about this program and what resources are newly available if someone wants broadband access?

Jessica Rosenworcel: I'm so glad you asked. The Affordable Connectivity Program is a really big deal. And because it's Washington, we often would just call it ACP because we can't resist abbreviating everything. And the ACP is the nation's largest-ever broadband affordability effort. We've never had anything this big, and it's a program that's run by my agency, the Federal Communications Commission. Since it started less than a year ago, we have been able to sign up 12.2 million households for this program. Okay, so what is it? It's a program that makes sure that everyone in this country can afford to go online and stay online. So if in your households you get SNAP, Medicaid, you sign up for Lifeline, or you've got a child or even a grandchild living there who goes to a school where they are on the free or reduced lunch program, you're eligible. If your household income is 200 percent of our federal poverty guidelines, you're eligible. Eligibility is broad. We've got tens of millions of households that are eligible for this program, and what's valuable about it is if you fit into that eligibility care category, we've got 1,300 broadband providers nationwide now that are going to be willing to serve you. And when they serve you, you get a discount of $30 a month off of your broadband bill. And to be clear, we've got some providers that are offering service at a hundred megabits down, for instance, which is pretty fast, at $30. So it could even wind up being free for you. It's a really terrific program, and I'm just going to say that if you wanted to sign up for it, there is a website, affordableconnectivity.gov, and also there is a toll-free number to help make sure you can qualify and then find a provider so you can get that discount.

Bill Walsh: And that number for our listeners is 877-384-2575. 877-384-2575. That URL was, affordableconnectivity.gov. Let's take a second and explore that second dimension of the digital divide, the affordability. You talked about these grants in financial assistance available through the law. What about the lowest-income households? What if cost is still an issue for them in accessing high-speed internet?

Jessica Rosenworcel: So I think one of the really interesting developments is that we have a few dozen broadband providers that are now making service available right at $30 a month. Because the discount this program provides is $30 a month. That means it's functionally free. That's a really big deal. And the thing that you can do is on that website, you can go in and you can check which providers make it available in your community. It's also available at ftc.gov/ACP, and like I said, there's 1,300 of them. We also make clear that some of the providers are offering discounted tablets or laptops as part of the program. And we indicate if they're doing that on our list on our website, too. So we're trying to figure out how to make the service available to those who need it, including there are opportunities for some providers for free service, and some opportunities also to get a discounted device. A lot of this is provider-specific, so it depends who's offering it in your area, and there are two steps to this program. The first is you have to go get yourself qualified — it's not very hard. All of those programs make you qualify, to qualify in one regard, not all of them. And then once you qualify, you have to choose a provider. But it’s a terrific program because, like I said, it's already helped more than 12 million households get online.

Bill Walsh: That's fantastic to hear about. Thank you so much for describing. It's a really important work, and thank you so much for joining us today, chairwoman Rosenworcel.

Jessica Rosenworcel: Thank you for having me.

Bill Walsh: All right. Thanks for being with us. And as a follow-up to my conversation with the FCC chairwoman, I have some important information for those of you who are seeking help getting low-cost internet access. You might want to jot this down, as I'm going to give you a couple of phone numbers and web addresses. AARP’s charitable affiliate, Older Adults Technology Services, or OATS, works to close the technology adoption gap through the Aging Connected Initiative. They report last year found that an estimated 22 million of American seniors lacked broadband access at home, and Medicaid enrollees were nearly three times more likely to be offline. For more information about low-cost internet options in your community, or to watch a step-by-step video on how to sign up for the Affordable Connectivity Program, visit agingconnected.org. That's agingconnected.org, or call 877-745-1930. That's 877-745-1930. And as the chairwoman said, you can apply directly to the program and get resources for high-speed internet or in some cases even devices. You can go to affordableconnectivity.gov. That's affordableconnectivity.gov, or call the ACP support center at 877-384-2575. That's 877-384-2575.

All right, now as a reminder to our listeners to ask your question about the coronavirus pandemic, press *3 on your telephone keypad. We are going to take more of your live questions shortly, but before we do, I wanted to bring in my AARP colleague Megan O'Reilly. Megan is the vice president of health and family issues on our advocacy team, and she's going to be updating our listeners about how AARP is fighting for them. Welcome to the program, Megan.

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

Bill Walsh: All right. As you just heard, we were fortunate today to be joined by the FCC chairwoman, Jessica Rosenworcel, who shared the importance of high-speed internet for seniors and nursing home residents. This is an issue AARP has been working hard to address. Are there any updates you can share?

Megan O'Reilly: Yes, AARP has long worked for low-cost internet solutions for older Americans who need high-speed broadband for teleworking, medical appointments, health information, news and connecting with loved ones and friends. Unfortunately, as we just heard, the lack of accessibility and affordability of high-speed internet served as a barrier for many older adults. This is why AARP advocated in support of investments in the bipartisan infrastructure package that will help bridge the digital divide felt by many older Americans. We're excited to help states and communities bring high-speed internet to more people.

Bill Walsh: All right, thank you for that. Now in other advocacy news last week, the boards of trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds released their annual reports outlining the financial outlook for both programs. How did those programs fare? Are they secure?

Megan O'Reilly: AARP's top priorities continue to be protecting Medicare and Social Security. Both programs have seen financial improvements and are sound for the near future. Unfortunately, without congressional action, Medicare and Social Security face significant long-term financial challenges. AARP is urging Congress to protect the benefits people have earned and paid into. The millions of people who rely on Medicare and Social Security need to be able to count on these benefits both now and in the future.

Bill Walsh: Now I know Medicare is especially top of mind right now, as AARP is fighting hard to lower prescription drug prices.

Megan O'Reilly: Absolutely. Right now, we're all in on the fight to lower prescription drug prices for older Americans. Seniors are tired of paying the highest prices in the world for their medicines. For years, Congress has promised to address the skyrocketing price of prescription drugs, and we are finally on the verge of seeing change. We have never been this close to major prescription drug reform, and the Senate must act to get this done now.

Bill Walsh: Now, what kinds of prescription drug reforms are we pushing for?

Megan O'Reilly: First, Medicare needs to be allowed to negotiate for lower prices. We also want to put a cap on out-of-pocket costs that older adults and Medicare pay for their prescriptions and impose penalties on drug companies that raise prices faster than the rate of inflation. These reforms together will help families afford medications and save taxpayers billions of dollars each year.

Bill Walsh: Okay, well there's a lot going on. If our listeners want to stay on top of AARP's advocacy news, how can they find the latest?

Megan O'Reilly: Absolutely. We encourage everyone to go online and search AARP Fighting for You. That will lead you to a daily roundup of all the latest advocacy news and updates on our work with Congress and across the country. It's a great way to stay informed, and we hope you check it out.

Bill Walsh: All right. Great. Searching on AARP Fighting for You. Got it. Thank you for being with us today, Megan.

Megan O'Reilly: Thank you, Bill.

Bill Walsh: All right. Now, it's time to address more of your questions with Dr. Anand Parekh, chief medical adviser with the Bipartisan Policy Center. As a reminder, press *3 at any time on your telephone keypad to be connected with an AARP staff member and ask your question live. Jesse, who do we have on the line?

Jesse Salinas: Yes, our next question is from YouTube. It's from Jennifer. She says, "When will the antiviral Paxlovid be available for anyone? My doctor would not prescribe it for me because I didn't meet an age requirement and wasn't in a high-risk category."

Bill Walsh: That's an interesting question. Dr. Parekh?

Anand Parekh: That's a great question. So Paxlovid is now available at pharmacies across the country. It is an antiviral medication. To be eligible you have to be 12 and older, be at high risk for severe illness or complications from COVID, be at least 88 pounds, have a positive COVID test. And studies have shown that if taken within five days of symptoms, that it can substantially reduce the rate of hospitalizations, whether you're vaccinated or not, particularly in the older adult population. The initial studies of Paxlovid were done during the delta wave. And so the studies focused on the omicron wave, and we're seeing right now omicron's appearance. Those are just coming out, but it really shows that those who will benefit from it the most are in fact those who are elderly, whether they've been vaccinated or not. And so I think to the caller's question, there are recommendations as to who should receive it. And health care professionals are trying to just follow the data and the recommendations, even though it is authorized for those 12 and older and who are at high risk, I think having a conversation with your health care professional whether you should take it or not based on the best available data would be my suggestion.

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

Jesse Salinas: Our next caller is going to be Jane from California.

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

Jane: As an 80-year-old who's fully vaxed and boosted as of two months ago, I'm looking at the fairs and festivals that are available, and I would like to attend with a good mask, N95 or KN95, some parts that are indoors and some outdoors and try to be conscious of proximity. But you do get close to people if you're going to buy something or look at something they're showing. Are masks getting too much of saying they're too safe, and are we depending on them too much? Should I just stay home until things get better or more vaccines, or are they really pretty reliable in those situations and can we feel safe going to those types of places?

Bill Walsh: Right, Jean, thank you so much for that question. And it's a good one. There's been a lot of talk about the effectiveness of masks, and we are entering the season where people wanting to get out and going to fairs and festivals and sporting events. What advice do you have, Dr. Parekh?

Anand Parekh: So outdoors is always better than indoors. We've learned that very well from our COVID experience the importance of good ventilation. We've also learned a lot about the quality of the masks, and cloth masks we've learned, particularly with these hyper-transmissible variants, just don't cut it. It's really important to have one of these N95 or KN95 masks, particularly if you're a senior, you're vulnerable and you're going in indoor environments. So I would highly suggest a high-quality mask. Again, outdoors always better than indoors, but if it is indoors, as long as you are fully up to date with your vaccination status, and you have access if you need it to test, you know where to go just in case you test positive to get access to treatment, then I think it's fine. I think it's important that we all live our lives. But be vigilant and make sure you have access to the resources should you need them.

Bill Walsh: Okay, thank you for that. Jesse, who do we have next on the line?

Jesse Salinas: The next caller is going to be Mary from Illinois.

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

Mary: Thanks for taking my call. I took a J&J vaccine months ago. It was the first one I took and only required one, but since then, they've done away with that. There was something about blood clots. Now is there still danger of me having a blood clot from taking that?

Bill Walsh: We seem to have lost Mary, but Doctor, perhaps you can fill Mary and others in on the status of the J&J vaccine and kind of its safety profile right now. And I also wonder if people had gotten the J&J vaccine, what should they do about a booster?

Anand Parekh: Well, the recommendation is to get boosted if you had your J&J vaccine. You're right, there were side effects related to blood clots in close proximity to the vaccine. So if you're many months out, it's not something you need to be concerned about, but still very important to get boosted. And the most effective way to get boosted is with one of the mRNA vaccines. So getting either a Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccine to boost your immunity on top of the initial Johnson & Johnson would be my recommendation. But again, another good question to talk to your health care professional about, just really important to get boosted irrespective of the initial vaccine that you received.

Bill Walsh: Okay, and Jesse, let's take another question.

Jesse Salinas: Our next caller is Diane in Virginia.

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

Dany: Hi, it's actually Dainy. My question is, I had COVID in November 2020. I have been diagnosed as a long hauler. And unfortunately, the COVID attacked my kidney. I'm still having extreme cough, the shortness of breath, fatigue, and it's very debilitating for me. So I want to ask the doctor, do he really think that there would be some type of test that would diagnose long haulers? And also, now my feeling is that you will not be able to treat long haulers — you have to treat the symptoms for each individual symptom. Cause I had kidney failure, it attacked my kidneys. I see a nephrologist, I see a hematologist, and I also see a pulmonologist. So I have to see different doctors for the different problems that I'm having. So my main question is, will there ever really be a test that can diagnose long haulers?

Bill Walsh: All right. Doctor, so Dainy was asking, you heard it. Is there going to be a test for long COVID, and is she right that the way you treat it is to treat the underlying issues, whether it's with her kidneys or heart or whatever.

Anand Parekh: Yes, she's likely right, and sorry Dainy to hear about your symptoms. Again, there's active research ongoing now to see if there's a way we can diagnosis this. One of the things that we're unclear about is, is long COVID happening because the virus is still in the body, if you will, or is it the immune system or the inflammatory process in the body causing these long-term types of symptoms. So based on the answer to that question, we'll be able to figure out whether there can actually be a diagnostic test. But I think you're right in the sense that ultimately, depending on the individual symptoms that someone has, treatment will likely be guided towards that. So if it's cough and shortness of breath and pulmonary symptoms, there's going to be treatments for that. If there are kidney ailments, there'll be treatments for that. So more than likely, unless they find for some reason that the virus is still circulating and could there be some specific treatment, more than likely the treatments will be directed to the organ systems in the body that continue to produce the symptoms. So I believe you're correct.

Bill Walsh: Okay, thanks for that. Jesse, let's take another call. Who do we have on the line?

Jesse Salinas: The next caller is Bonnie from Texas.

Bill Walsh: Hey, Bonnie, welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question. Hey, Bonnie, are you with us?

Bonnie: Yes, I am. I'm sorry, I was speaking to mute.

Bill Walsh: That happens, no worries. Go ahead with your question.

Bonnie: Thank you, thank you. Yes, my question has to do with a COVID-19 antibody prevention medication called Evusheld. What can you tell me about it, and are you aware of it? I understand it has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Bill Walsh: Let's ask Dr. Parekh about that. Evusheld, are you familiar with it, Doctor, and what can you tell us about it?

Anand Parekh: Yeah. So it's a medication specifically for individuals who are immunocompromised, and a medication that can prevent you from getting COVID in the first place. And it is certainly something that is available now, something that you should talk to your health care provider about whether you have an indication. It is also something that has been difficult relatively to access. So I think there is a lot of focus right now on ensuring people know about it and increasing accessibility so individuals can receive it. So, again, it's really focused on the individuals whose immune system is limited or immunocompromised.

Bill Walsh: Okay, thanks so much for that. Jesse, who do we have up next?

Jesse Salinas: Yes, our next caller is going to be from Alan in New York.

Bill Walsh: Hey, Alan. Welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question. Alan, welcome to the program. Go ahead with your question.

Jesse Salinas: It looks like we lost him, Bill. Let's move on.

Bill Walsh: Let's move on.

Jesse Salinas: Rick in Pennsylvania.

Bill Walsh: Hey, Rick. Hey, Rick, go ahead with your question. Welcome to the program.

Rick: Yeah, I would like to know if we're going to get, if we need another booster shot after this fourth one? And if so, when would it be? I just got my shot in September.

Bill Walsh: Well, we talked about this a little bit earlier. Doctor, what can you tell people who have had all of their boosters? Are there more in store for this? Is this going to be an annual thing do you think?

Anand Parekh: Well, first of all, for everyone who's gotten their booster, their first booster and second booster, if they're eligible, I think that is great. And continuing, Bill, to stay vigilant is really important. Whether or not there'll be more boosters in the future is really entirely dependent upon what the data looks like. And as I mentioned, many people are closely studying now reinfection rates, hospitalization rates, stats, looking at antibody levels to determine whether in the future more boosters will be necessary. So it's a little bit too early to know. As I said, there's also significant research on coming up with a newer and better vaccine targeted towards the omicron variant. So I think we're going to learn more over the summer and in the fall. But there is definitely a possibility before the end of the year that either another booster or a new vaccine against, again, targeted towards the omicron variant may be available and may be particularly important for vulnerable Americans and seniors as well. So we just don't know yet the answer to that question, but hopefully in the coming months we'll know more.

Bill Walsh: Okay, very good. Jesse, let's take another call.

Jesse Salinas: We're going to move to Patty in New York.

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

Patty: Thank you, sir. I'm trying to find out how many antivirals are available for the public, and what are the contraindications and side effects of each of them. And also ...

Bill Walsh: Oh, I'm sorry. We lost Patty, but she was asking about how many antivirals are available and what the contraindications are. Can you talk a little bit about that, Dr. Parekh?

Anand Parekh: Sure, sure. So I think the most important antiviral out there right now is Paxlovid, and the reason it's probably the most important is because it's oral. So you may have heard in the past about these monoclonal antibody infusions. Well with Paxlovid, you no longer have to go to the hospital and be hooked up intravenously and receive medication. You can, over the course of five days, take these oral antiviral drugs. And again, particularly for individuals over the age of 65, whether you're vaccinated or not, if you can take these medicines within five days of onset of symptoms, you can substantially lower the risk of being hospitalized. So I think that's really important. Now, there are some important notes about Paxlovid, that's why it's important to talk to your health care provider about Paxlovid, particularly if you have, for example, liver or kidney disease. Also, if you're taking other drugs, because there are a number of drugs that affect Paxlovid, for example, anti-cholesterol medications. So there may be some medications that you're on that need to come off for a few days or a week or two when you're on Paxlovid. And then in terms of side effects for Paxlovid, I think particularly again if you have liver problems, there are side effects you can have, that's why it's important to talk to your health care provider about this. There are also some side effects, for example, if you have untreated HIV infection. But overall, the side effects for the medication are not major. The benefit/risk ratio is substantially in favor of benefit, particularly if you're older. The last thing I will mention, Bill, which I think is important: There are some reports that in about 5 to 10 percent of cases, individuals taking Paxlovid, they get better, but the symptoms then come back, and they have a positive test. The symptoms are mild, but they have to isolate again. This is what's called sort of the COVID rebound with Paxlovid, and researchers aren't quite sure why this is happening. Perhaps the Paxlovid is being underdosed, perhaps the need for more days. So there's a lot of research going on there. But I do want listeners to know that in a small percentage of cases, people who take this medicine, they get better but the symptoms come back for a few days. Again, these are mild and certainly in those are over the age of 65, again, the benefits outweigh the risks here.

Bill Walsh: Okay, very good. Dr. Parekh, we've talked a fair amount about vaccines, and you've suggested there may be new developments coming soon. The Food and Drug Administration will consider another COVID vaccine option soon, one that's currently approved in Europe. What are the differences and concerns for the Novavax vaccine, and what do older adults need to know about it?

Anand Parekh: So this is a new vaccine that the FDA is right now considering. It is a protein-based vaccine, so the way they develop the vaccine is they take what's called a spike protein of the coronavirus and introduce it as a vaccine, and your body's immune system then is activated. So in many ways, it's the traditional way of producing a vaccine versus this new mRNA technology with Moderna as well as Pfizer. It looks like — and FDA's advisory committee just looked at this yesterday — it looks like the safety profile and the effectiveness profile is as good as all the other vaccines. Now, FDA hasn't yet authorized it yet, because they're looking at some manufacturing issues that the company has had in the past. But if they do authorize this, this is another vaccine again for those who are unvaccinated. So this is not yet for those needing a booster, but for those who are unvaccinated to those vaccines using traditional technology. And I think, Bill, that could be important because there are some people out there who have not gotten vaccinated because they just had too many unanswered questions about this new mRNA technology. Well, this Novavax vaccine is a traditional technology, and it could very well be that some Americans out there unvaccinated — there are still a couple of million seniors will have never gotten their first shot — they could be persuaded finally to get vaccinated because this is more of a traditional vaccine, at least from a technology perspective. So I think we have to wait and see here. We don't want to get ahead of the FDA, but indeed, if they do authorize this, it is another opportunity for Americans who are unvaccinated to become vaccinated.

Bill Walsh: Okay. Thanks for that. Jesse, let's go back to the lines and take another call.

Jesse Salinas: We're going to go with Alan in Wisconsin.

Bill Walsh: Hey, Alan. Welcome to our program. Go ahead. Hey, how are you? Go ahead with your question.

Alan: My question is also regards to antibody testing. I've had three, you know, three shots total — two boosters, one regular — and my doctor's telling me I'm due for another one. I had an antibody test, which was a hundred plus or whatever the highest reading is that you can get for that test. So I kind of questioned this. Is it the right time to get another one now —I can't get any better based on that test — or to wait another couple of months when maybe lights are going off or whatever?

Bill Walsh: Right, thanks so much for that question, Alan. Dr. Parekh, what advice do you have for folks in Alan's situation? Should he continue to wait or what?

Anand Parekh: So the current medical advice is really not to follow antibody levels, but really follow the guidelines, CDC recommendations. So when you're eligible for that next booster to go ahead and get that booster, not to try to time things, because you don't quite know what's coming down the pike. So my advice would be if you're eligible for that next booster now, irrespective of what may happen in the future or antibody levels, it's a good thing to go ahead and get that booster. And checking antibody levels with regularity is really not something that most physicians are currently looking at.

Bill Walsh: Okay, thank you for that. This has been a really informative discussion. I want to thank both of our guests for their information and insights today. 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. All of the resources referenced today, including a recording of today's Q&A event can be found at the following website: aarp.org/coronavirus, beginning tomorrow, June 10. Go there if your question was not addressed, and you'll find the latest updates as well as information created specifically for older adults and family caregivers. And if you're looking for Medicare assistance during COVID-19, please visit the following website: shiphelp.org/COVID-19. We hope you learned something that can help keep you and your loved ones healthy. Please join us again on September 15 for another live coronavirus Q&A event. Thank you and have a good day. This concludes our call.

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

[Instructions in Spanish]

 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 the summer begins and pre-pandemic activities and travel resume, Americans are embracing a renewed sense of normalcy. While many are learning to live with COVID, many still have questions and concerns related to the overall health and safety, as well as the effectiveness of boosters and antiviral treatments. And millions of older Americans with no access to broadband internet are at a considerable disadvantage when it comes to accessing real-time COVID information or taking part in telehealth appointments with medical professionals, which have soared in popularity during the pandemic.

Today we’ll hear from an impressive panel of experts about these issues and more. We’ll also get an update from Capitol Hill on legislation affecting older Americans. If you’ve participated in one of our tele-town halls before, you know this is similar to a radio talk show, and you have the opportunity to ask your question live. For those of you joining us on the phone, if you’d like to ask a question about the pandemic, press *3 on your telephone and you’ll be connected with an AARP staff member who will note your name and question and place you in a queue to ask that question live. If you’re joining on Facebook or YouTube, you can post your question in the comments.

Hello, if you’re just joining, I’m Bill Walsh with AARP, and I want to welcome you to this important discussion about the global coronavirus pandemic. We’re talking with leading experts and taking your questions live. To ask your question, please press *3 on your telephone keypad, and if you're joining on Facebook or YouTube, you can drop your question in the comments section. We have some outstanding guests joining us today, including a chief medical doctor, as well as the chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission. 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 a recording at aarp.org/coronavirus 24 hours after we wrap up. Again, to ask your question, please press *3 at any time on your telephone keypad to be connected with an AARP staff member, or if you're joining on Facebook or YouTube, drop your question in the comments section.

Now I'd like to welcome our guests. Anand Parekh, M.D. and Master of Public Health, is the chief medical adviser with the Bipartisan Policy Center. Welcome, Dr. Parekh.

[00:03:20] Anand Parekh: Thank you, Bill. Great to be with you and AARP.

[00:03:23] Bill Walsh: Thanks for being here. Our other guest is Jessica Rosenworcel. She is the chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission, and she will be joining us just a bit later. As a reminder, to ask your question of our two experts, please press *3 on your telephone keypad, or you can drop it in the comments section on Facebook or YouTube. Let's go ahead and get started. Dr. Parekh, let's quickly review the basics about COVID-19 boosters. How do the vaccine boosters work, and why do they matter so much?

[00:03:59] Anand Parekh: Bill, thanks for that question. Boosters are essentially additional doses of vaccine, and they do just that: They boost immunity. They are identical to the previous shots that someone has taken; in many cases they're the same exact dose. And the latest research has shown that during this Omicron wave, getting a booster versus — not just getting the initial two shots — significantly reduced both hospitalizations as well as death. So I think we need to think about these boosters as simply being up to date with vaccines, just the same way that we get an annual flu shot, the same way if you get your shingles vaccine, you need a second dose a few months later. I think we need to think of it the same way. You're not getting extra shots because the initial shots don't work. You're simply getting additional shots in boosters because it protects you further from severe illness and death.

[00:04:58] Bill Walsh: Now we know that about a third of vaccinated adults haven't had a booster, and the Kaiser Family Foundation's COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor found that 56 percent felt they had had enough protection from the vaccine already, 39 percent didn't think boosters were that effective, and 46 percent think that either vaccines don't work or they had bad side effects when they got the original dose. What's going on here, and what can be done to encourage people to get boosters?

[00:05:33] Anand Parekh: This is such an important issue because you're exactly right. Again, 95 percent of seniors have received one dose, 91 percent have received two doses, but then when you ask about the booster, that third shot, it drops down to 69 percent. So there's a significant drop-off. And many of the reasons you mentioned are what we hear. I think what's important, again, to remember is that there is waning of immunity. And the most important thing we can do is to protect against severe illness. That's why vaccines and boosters are so important. You're also more likely to be reinfected with COVID without being up to date with vaccinations. It's also important to remember that though these vaccines prevent severe illness, they can also reduce — they might not a hundred percent prevent — but they will also reduce the chances of getting infected. Now most people are vaccinated, so you're going to see more infections in the vaccinated population. But again, that doesn't mean that these initial vaccinations don't work. It simply means that they're doing their job in preventing severe illness and hospitalizations. And finally, again, we've had a lot of data now about the safety of these vaccines and boosters, hundreds of millions of doses administered in the United States, billions around the world. It's been about 18 months since the initial set of vaccinations for many people, so we have some long-term data now. So these are safe and effective vaccines. And in terms of side effects, there's really no correlation between if you had some side effects after the first or second shot, that you'll get a side effect after the booster. And if you do, these are all also time-limited side effects, either localized or some fatigue and muscle aches and fever that individuals will get better soon. So again, I think these are vaccines and boosters that are safe, they are effective, they are free. And I think, Bill, we need the same urgency just like we did with those first two vaccines in the primary series. We need the same urgency to ensure that older adults get boosted because this is important, again, to prevent hospitalization, deaths, severe illness, as well as reinfection.

[00:07:59] Bill Walsh: Well, thanks for that, and let's talk about infection rates. We actually seem to be experiencing an invisible COVID surge at the moment, in part due to COVID fatigue and the proliferation of at-home tests and low hospitalizations. Are there any risks to ignoring the current surge of the omicron BA.2 variant?

[00:08:22] Anand Parekh: I think it's really important that we all stay vigilant, particularly older adults. Now if you look in the United States right now, we have about 100,000 documented cases every day. That is likely an underestimate by four or five-fold for the reasons that you mentioned. We have about 300 Americans dying daily; these are mostly older adults. The hospitalization rate in the 70+ year subgroup is increasing. And so I think it's, again, really important that older adults in particular are up to date with vaccinations being boosted, that they know how to access tests, that they know when they should be wearing masks, that they know if they do test positive, how to access treatments as well. And so, again, very, very important as we proceed this year. In the summer I'm concerned about the southern United States, particularly the southeastern part, Bill, of the United States, where booster rates are lower. And then certainly in the fall and winter in the northern states. So again, really important that we continue to stay vigilant and protect those who are most vulnerable.

[00:09:34] Bill Walsh: Thanks for that, Dr. Parekh. Let's talk about folks who have had COVID and may have heard the term long COVID. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that so-called long COVID may affect 30 percent of people who contract the virus. Is there any test for long COVID, and how do physicians diagnose and treat this condition? I'm wondering what some of the most common symptoms are.

[00:10:05] Anand Parekh: Yeah, there is an incredible amount of research right now, going to better define this condition called long COVID as well as to come up with diagnostic tests — right now there is not a diagnostic test — also to come up with treatments. Essentially what long COVID is, is we're seeing that a certain percentage of individuals with COVID are having persistent symptoms more than four to eight weeks out. So these are symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, headache, dizziness. And for many people, these can be quite debilitating. For some, these may resolve over time; for others we just don't know yet. And so I think we're going to have to sort of wait and see, better understand this illness, this syndrome, and researchers are right now trying to do exactly that, come up with diagnostic tests as well as then coming up with solutions so we can tend to the symptoms that people are having. But I think the most important point again here is the best way to avoid long COVID, once again, is to get vaccinated. And of course the best way to avoid long COVID is also to ensure that we are not infected or reinfected in the first place.

[00:11:21] Bill Walsh: All right. Very good. It's now time to address your questions about the coronavirus with Dr. Anand Parekh. He is the chief medical officer with the Bipartisan Policy Center. To ask your question, press *3 at any time on your telephone keypad and you'll be connected with an AARP staff member to share your question live. And if you'd like to listen to this program in Spanish, press *0 on your telephone keypad now.

[Instructions in Spanish]

 I'd now like to bring in my AARP colleague Jesse Salinas to help facilitate your calls today. Welcome, Jesse.

[00:12:04] Jesse Salinas: Good to be here, Bill.

[00:12:05] Bill Walsh: All right, who do we have first online today?

[00:12:08] Jesse Salinas: Our first caller today is Estella from Wisconsin.

[00:12:12] Bill Walsh: Hey, Estella, welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question for the doctor.

[00:12:17] Estella: Hi, good afternoon. My question is, I’ve had all four of my shots, and I was wondering if there's going to be an additional shot, and is this virus mutating?

[00:12:35] Bill Walsh: That's a great question. Dr. Parekh, can you address that for Estella?

[00:12:41] Anand Parekh: Sure, a very important question. So the coronavirus is doing what viruses do, which is mutate over time, and we're seeing that right now. We had the omicron variant earlier this year, and now we have subvariants of that omicron. You'll hear on the news: BA.2, 12.1, BA.4, BA.5. So all of these subvariants, and essentially the virus is adapting over time, and that's why there is a lot of research ongoing now to try to make a better vaccine, one that is better matched to the omicron variants, since that's really what is circulating around right now. And many manufacturers, including Moderna, who just made some news yesterday, believe that they are close to coming up with a vaccine that is better against the omicron variant than the original vaccine. So it could very well be that by the fall there may be a newer vaccine that is better targeted to the omicron variant to offer us more protection for the upcoming fall and winter. So stay tuned on that front. I think that's a pretty important development and something that we should expect. That's what we expect of, for example, flu shots every year. Every year, we try to see what's circulating, come up with a better flu shot that’s more targeted, and we get a little bit of a different flu shot. So nothing different than that, but an important development that we should watch for.

[00:14:19] Bill Walsh: Now Estella said she had four shots and wondered whether there were more in her future. Do you expect that like the flu, the annual flu vaccine, that we're going to be all getting annual COVID doses?

[00:14:37] Anand Parekh: You know I think there will be some regularity here, Bill. We just don't know exactly whether the frequency will be annual like it is with the flu shot, or will it be sooner than that? Will it be a longer duration? So that's exactly, I think over time, over the next few months and years, we'll be better able to gauge exactly what that frequency should be.

[00:15:00] Bill Walsh: Okay. All right, very good. Jesse, let's go back to the lines.

[00:15:05] Jesse Salinas: Yeah, this next question comes from Facebook. It's from Yvonne, and she says, "How is, how do people determine [inaudible] the need for the next booster, and it is possible will we become immune to this by some point?"

[00:15:16] Bill Walsh: Did you hear that question, Doctor?

[00:15:21] Anand Parekh: Bits and pieces. If Jessie could just repeat that or Bill.

[00:15:25] Bill Walsh: Go ahead, Jessie.

[00:15:28] Jesse Salinas: Yeah, so we'll try again. It's Yvonne, and her question is, "How did they determine the need for this booster, and is there a point where we become immune to this virus?"

[00:15:43] Bill Walsh: So the question was about how do they determine the need for the booster? And at some point, do you think we'll all become immune to this?

[00:15:57] Anand Parekh: That's a great question. And so what they do, Yvonne, is over time, they are able to track what are called antibody levels in your blood to get a sense partially of your immunity. And they also track hospitalizations and deaths and are able to stratify based on how many doses you have. And so if they start to see antibody levels dropping, if they start to see hospitalizations and deaths go up, then that's an indication that immunity is waning, and additional protection is needed to protect people from severe illness and death. And that's really what a booster is all about, to counter that natural waning of immunity. And so, again, the timing here is based on research as well as data coming from really not just here in the United States but around the world.

[00:16:51] Bill Walsh: Okay, very good. Thank you, Doctor. Let's go back to the lines. Jesse, who do we have up next?

[00:16:58] Jesse Salinas: Our next caller is Anthony from New Jersey.

[00:17:00] Bill Walsh: Hey, Anthony. Welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question.

[00:17:05] Anthony: Yeah, the question is related to reinfection. I was wondering how common it is, and if it is a function of age.

[00:17:13] Bill Walsh: That's a great question. Dr. Parekh, can you address that?

[00:17:17] Anand Parekh: It seems like reinfection risk is increasing right now, in particular because although many individuals were infected around the wintertime with the omicron variant, these subvariants that are there right now, don't seem to be completely protected by that immunity. So there are a wide number of people right now being reinfected because these new variants have something that's called immune escape. Essentially meaning that, again, the immunity has either waned or this new subvariant is escaping current immunity. And so, again, another reason just to be up to date with vaccinations because that will reduce the likelihood of being reinfected with any subvariants.

[00:18:12] Bill Walsh: And now Anthony had asked whether the chances of reinfection go up based on your age. Is there any connection there?

[00:18:20] Anand Parekh: Not really a connection related to reinfection. Certainly age and severe illness, hospitalization and deaths, there's an absolute strong correlation there. But in terms of infection, no real correlation there.

[00:18:41] Bill Walsh: Okay, thank you very much, Doctor. Let's go back to the phone lines. Jesse, who do we have up next?

[00:18:48] Jesse Salinas: Our next caller is going to be Lynn from California.

[00:18:52] Bill Walsh: Hey, Lynn, welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question.

[00:18:56] Lynn: Okay, my question is, if you had asymptomatic COVID, meaning you exhibited no signs of having the disease, is it still possible that you could experience long COVID?

[00:19:17] Bill Walsh: That's a very interesting question. Dr. Parekh, do we know the answer to that yet?

[00:19:23] Anand Parekh: In general, the studies have shown that you're more likely to get long COVID if you've had a bout of severe illness. That being said, there have been cases of long COVID in individuals who have had either no or mild symptoms as well. So that's, again, one of the things that we're learning about long COVID. It can really impact anyone who has had COVID in the past, whether they're bout has been mild or severe.

[00:19:54] Bill Walsh: You had talked about this a little bit earlier, but what should our listeners know about long COVID? What are the most common symptoms they should be looking for, and what should they do if they think they might be suffering from that?

[00:20:09] Anand Parekh: Usually after a viral infection, it takes a couple of weeks for that cough to go away, that shortness of breath to go away, that fatigue to go away. But if you are a month or two out, and you are still having many of those symptoms — it could be headache, it could be dizziness, unexplained symptoms, whether mild or debilitating — then it's really important to have an appointment with your health care professional, health care provider to go over your symptoms to see whether indeed you have something like long COVID. So it's really for individuals who are past four weeks, four to eight weeks, have persistent symptoms, and that's who we're really thinking about in terms of who has long COVID.

[00:21:00] Bill Walsh: Got it, okay, thank you. Jesse, who do we have up next?

[00:21:05] Jesse Salinas: The next question is from Sharon on YouTube, and she says, "I had two Pfizer vaccines, and then a booster in September of 2021. I then got COVID in January of 2022. When should I time getting my second booster?

[00:21:19] Bill Walsh: Dr. Parekh?

[00:21:22] Anand Parekh: So it's a great question, one that's asked often, and really the answer is there's no perfect time to quote, unquote time a vaccine. Once you are eligible for receiving that second booster, and it's usually four months after the first booster, you should go ahead and get it to be up to date with your vaccination. Again, even if you've had COVID, that immunity wanes, and being up to date with your boosters and vaccinations will reduce the chance of reinfection as well as maximally protect you against severe illness. So instead of timing it, if you're eligible, you should likely just go ahead and get your second booster.

[00:22:07] Bill Walsh: Now Sharon of course had been vaccinated and boosted and still got COVID. What do you say to people who have some skepticism of either the vaccines or the boosters or both? Because they could still get COVID.

[00:22:22] Anand Parekh: Yeah, a very important point and, again, and as we talked about with the Kaiser Family Foundation data here, just because you have an infection, that doesn't mean that the vaccines don't work. The purpose of the vaccine is to prevent hospitalization, death and severe illness. Now the vaccines also reduce the chance that you get infected in the first place, but they're not going to 100 percent prevent you from getting infected. And so I think that's really important to note, and again, the reason to get a booster is not an indication that the initial vaccines failed. It's simply an indication, just like with all the other vaccines we get that over time, we need to boost our immune system to maximally protect us.

[00:23:08] Bill Walsh: Okay, Doctor, thank you very much. And thanks for all those questions. We are going to take more live questions shortly. And remember, if you'd like to ask a question, please press *3 on your telephone keypad at any time, or drop your comments, your question in the comments section of Facebook or YouTube.

Now I'd like to welcome our special guest, Jessica Rosenworcel. She is the chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC is an extremely influential federal agency that regulates communication by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable all across the nation. Thank you so much for being with us today, chairwoman Rosenworcel.

[00:23:50] Jessica Rosenworcel: Thank you for having me.

[00:23:51] Bill Walsh: All right. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that passed last year includes funding to help provide high-speed internet to more Americans. What did the law do, and why is reliable internet access essential for older adults in particular?

[00:24:11] Jessica Rosenworcel: That's a great question, but when I talk about this, the first thing I like to do is talk about the pandemic. And the truth is the last two years, we've all been asked to mask up, hunker down and go online for so much of modern life. We saw work, education and health care migrate to online platforms. And so it's become more important than ever before that we get every household, everywhere, reliable and consistent broadband access. And I think that goes for young and old alike, but when it comes to older adults, I think that we're going to see a lot of the telemedicine policies and practices that were adopted during the pandemic are going to continue when we get to the other side. And I think that's going to make health care more accessible for a lot of older Americans.

[00:25:04] Bill Walsh: Well, let me follow up on that. A recent study that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Network Open found that us communities with limited internet access reported higher COVID-19 death rates during the first year of the pandemic. Why was this, and how is broadband access related to public health?

[00:25:26] Jessica Rosenworcel: I think that the relationship between broadband access and public health is growing, and that article you mentioned in the Journal of the American Medical Association is really intriguing. What we've come to recognize is that internet access is a gateway to information, resources and support. It's where we go to figure out when we need a COVID shot, where those COVID shots are available, how we can sign up for follow-up appointments with our doctors, our physicians, our nurse practitioners, the people we rely on for basic medical care. And it feels to me like you're going to be able to access a whole world of information and resources and care if you've got access to the world online at home. And if you don't, you're going to be cut off from that, and that online world and its influence on our day-to-day is only going to grow.

[00:26:20] Bill Walsh: Yeah. Well, let's dig into that a little bit. You know, more than two decades ago, the Pew Research Center began collecting data about Americans' internet access, and researchers found large gaps, particularly among older Americans, low-income people, multicultural populations, people with less education and those who live in rural areas. While there's been improvement, for sure, internet access remains inequitable today. And, of course, we call this the digital divide. Can you explain why this divide still exists?

[00:26:50] Jessica Rosenworcel: I think that the digital divide — and by that we mean those who have access to reliable and consistent broadband and those that don't — I think that that divide has two components. And I think that when we talk about it, we should be really mindful of that. The first component got a lot of attention during the last few years. We talk about rural areas of the country where the infrastructure necessary to provide high-speed broadband to homes and businesses may not be present. That's a problem. We got to build that infrastructure out, just like a century ago we built out the infrastructure that brought electricity to our most remote communities. This is on par with that infrastructure challenge a hundred years ago. And the good news is Congress has set aside a lot of money to do that in all of these COVID relief packages and all of this COVID-related legislation and in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill. We've got billions of dollars to help build that infrastructure in the rural communities that today don't have it. But that's only one part of digital divide. Like I said, there are two parts. The second part is really about affordability. And I think until recently, the United States ignored that second piece. But that second piece is really important, because we have low-income households with young people and old people who are struggling right now to pay for gas, to pay for groceries, and keeping reliable, consistent broadband in their home might fall by the wayside. So now, as a result of all that COVID-related legislation, we have programs to help make sure every household can afford broadband, much like we have programs to help with basic telephony, electricity and other infrastructure necessities that are really key for modern life. So I think of the digital divide as having those two components: rural infrastructure but also affordability.

[00:28:42] Bill Walsh: Well, let's dig into both of those dimensions. We were talking a little bit earlier about the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and among other things, it tasks the FCC with creating the Affordable Connectivity Program. Can you talk a little bit about this program and what resources are newly available if someone wants broadband access?

[00:29:02] Jessica Rosenworcel: I'm so glad you asked. The Affordable Connectivity Program is a really big deal. And because it's Washington, we often would just call it ACP because we can't resist abbreviating everything. And the ACP is the nation's largest-ever broadband affordability effort. We've never had anything this big, and it's a program that's run by my agency, the Federal Communications Commission. Since it started less than a year ago, we have been able to sign up 12.2 million households for this program. Okay, so what is it? It's a program that makes sure that everyone in this country can afford to go online and stay online. So if in your households you get SNAP, Medicaid, you sign up for Lifeline, or you've got a child or even a grandchild living there who goes to a school where they are on the free or reduced lunch program, you're eligible. If your household income is 200 percent of our federal poverty guidelines, you're eligible. Eligibility is broad. We've got tens of millions of households that are eligible for this program, and what's valuable about it is if you fit into that eligibility care category, we've got 1,300 broadband providers nationwide now that are going to be willing to serve you. And when they serve you, you get a discount of $30 a month off of your broadband bill. And to be clear, we've got some providers that are offering service at a hundred megabits down, for instance, which is pretty fast, at $30. So it could even wind up being free for you. It's a really terrific program, and I'm just going to say that if you wanted to sign up for it, there is a website, affordableconnectivity.gov, and also there is a toll-free number to help make sure you can qualify and then find a provider so you can get that discount.

[00:30:53] Bill Walsh: And that number for our listeners is 877-384-2575. 877-384-2575. That URL was, affordableconnectivity.gov. Let's take a second and explore that second dimension of the digital divide, the affordability. You talked about these grants in financial assistance available through the law. What about the lowest-income households? What if cost is still an issue for them in accessing high-speed internet?

[00:31:30] Jessica Rosenworcel: So I think one of the really interesting developments is that we have a few dozen broadband providers that are now making service available right at $30 a month. Because the discount this program provides is $30 a month. That means it's functionally free. That's a really big deal. And the thing that you can do is on that website, you can go in and you can check which providers make it available in your community. It's also available at ftc.gov/ACP, and like I said, there's 1,300 of them. We also make clear that some of the providers are offering discounted tablets or laptops as part of the program. And we indicate if they're doing that on our list on our website, too. So we're trying to figure out how to make the service available to those who need it, including there are opportunities for some providers for free service, and some opportunities also to get a discounted device. A lot of this is provider-specific, so it depends who's offering it in your area, and there are two steps to this program. The first is you have to go get yourself qualified — it's not very hard. All of those programs make you qualify, to qualify in one regard, not all of them. And then once you qualify, you have to choose a provider. But it’s a terrific program because, like I said, it's already helped more than 12 million households get online.

[00:32:59] Bill Walsh: That's fantastic to hear about. Thank you so much for describing. It's a really important work, and thank you so much for joining us today, chairwoman Rosenworcel.

[00:33:08] Jessica Rosenworcel: Thank you for having me.

[00:33:09] Bill Walsh: All right. Thanks for being with us. And as a follow-up to my conversation with the FCC chairwoman, I have some important information for those of you who are seeking help getting low-cost internet access. You might want to jot this down, as I'm going to give you a couple of phone numbers and web addresses. AARP’s charitable affiliate, Older Adults Technology Services, or OATS, works to close the technology adoption gap through the Aging Connected Initiative. They report last year found that an estimated 22 million of American seniors lacked broadband access at home, and Medicaid enrollees were nearly three times more likely to be offline. For more information about low-cost internet options in your community, or to watch a step-by-step video on how to sign up for the Affordable Connectivity Program, visit agingconnected.org. That's agingconnected.org, or call 877-745-1930. That's 877-745-1930. And as the chairwoman said, you can apply directly to the program and get resources for high-speed internet or in some cases even devices. You can go to affordableconnectivity.gov. That's affordableconnectivity.gov, or call the ACP support center at 877-384-2575. That's 877-384-2575.

All right, now as a reminder to our listeners to ask your question about the coronavirus pandemic, press *3 on your telephone keypad. We are going to take more of your live questions shortly, but before we do, I wanted to bring in my AARP colleague Megan O'Reilly. Megan is the vice president of health and family issues on our advocacy team, and she's going to be updating our listeners about how AARP is fighting for them. Welcome to the program, Megan.

[00:35:32] Megan O'Reilly: Happy to be here, Bill.

[00:35:34] Bill Walsh: All right. As you just heard, we were fortunate today to be joined by the FCC chairwoman, Jessica Rosenworcel, who shared the importance of high-speed internet for seniors and nursing home residents. This is an issue AARP has been working hard to address. Are there any updates you can share?

[00:35:53] Megan O'Reilly: Yes, AARP has long worked for low-cost internet solutions for older Americans who need high-speed broadband for teleworking, medical appointments, health information, news and connecting with loved ones and friends. Unfortunately, as we just heard, the lack of accessibility and affordability of high-speed internet served as a barrier for many older adults. This is why AARP advocated in support of investments in the bipartisan infrastructure package that will help bridge the digital divide felt by many older Americans. We're excited to help states and communities bring high-speed internet to more people.

[00:36:31] Bill Walsh: All right, thank you for that. Now in other advocacy news last week, the boards of trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds released their annual reports outlining the financial outlook for both programs. How did those programs fare? Are they secure?

[00:36:49] Megan O'Reilly: AARP's top priorities continue to be protecting Medicare and Social Security. Both programs have seen financial improvements and are sound for the near future. Unfortunately, without congressional action, Medicare and Social Security face significant long-term financial challenges. AARP is urging Congress to protect the benefits people have earned and paid into. The millions of people who rely on Medicare and Social Security need to be able to count on these benefits both now and in the future.

[00:37:20] Bill Walsh: Now I know Medicare is especially top of mind right now, as AARP is fighting hard to lower prescription drug prices.

[00:37:29] Megan O'Reilly: Absolutely. Right now, we're all in on the fight to lower prescription drug prices for older Americans. Seniors are tired of paying the highest prices in the world for their medicines. For years, Congress has promised to address the skyrocketing price of prescription drugs, and we are finally on the verge of seeing change. We have never been this close to major prescription drug reform, and the Senate must act to get this done now.

[00:37:53] Bill Walsh: Now, what kinds of prescription drug reforms are we pushing for?

[00:37:58] Megan O'Reilly: First, Medicare needs to be allowed to negotiate for lower prices. We also want to put a cap on out-of-pocket costs that older adults and Medicare pay for their prescriptions and impose penalties on drug companies that raise prices faster than the rate of inflation. These reforms together will help families afford medications and save taxpayers billions of dollars each year.

[00:38:20] Bill Walsh: Okay, well there's a lot going on. If our listeners want to stay on top of AARP's advocacy news, how can they find the latest?

[00:38:29] Megan O'Reilly: Absolutely. We encourage everyone to go online and search AARP Fighting for You. That will lead you to a daily roundup of all the latest advocacy news and updates on our work with Congress and across the country. It's a great way to stay informed, and we hope you check it out.

[00:38:47] Bill Walsh: All right. Great. Searching on AARP Fighting for You. Got it. Thank you for being with us today, Megan.

[00:38:56] Megan O'Reilly: Thank you, Bill.

[00:38:57] Bill Walsh: All right. Now, it's time to address more of your questions with Dr. Anand Parekh, chief medical adviser with the Bipartisan Policy Center. As a reminder, press *3 at any time on your telephone keypad to be connected with an AARP staff member and ask your question live. Jesse, who do we have on the line?

[00:39:18] Jesse Salinas: Yes, our next question is from YouTube. It's from Jennifer. She says, "When will the antiviral Paxlovid be available for anyone? My doctor would not prescribe it for me because I didn't meet an age requirement and wasn't in a high-risk category."

[00:39:32] Bill Walsh: That's an interesting question. Dr. Parekh?

[00:39:36] Anand Parekh: That's a great question. So Paxlovid is now available at pharmacies across the country. It is an antiviral medication. To be eligible you have to be 12 and older, be at high risk for severe illness or complications from COVID, be at least 88 pounds, have a positive COVID test. And studies have shown that if taken within five days of symptoms, that it can substantially reduce the rate of hospitalizations, whether you're vaccinated or not, particularly in the older adult population. The initial studies of Paxlovid were done during the delta wave. And so the studies focused on the omicron wave, and we're seeing right now omicron's appearance. Those are just coming out, but it really shows that those who will benefit from it the most are in fact those who are elderly, whether they've been vaccinated or not. And so I think to the caller's question, there are recommendations as to who should receive it. And health care professionals are trying to just follow the data and the recommendations, even though it is authorized for those 12 and older and who are at high risk, I think having a conversation with your health care professional whether you should take it or not based on the best available data would be my suggestion.

[00:41:10] Bill Walsh: Okay, thanks very much for that. Jesse, who do we have next on the line?

[00:41:16] Jesse Salinas: Our next caller is going to be Jane from California.

[00:41:21] Bill Walsh: Hey, Jane. Welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question.

[00:41:27] Jane: As an 80-year-old who's fully vaxed and boosted as of two months ago, I'm looking at the fairs and festivals that are available, and I would like to attend with a good mask, N95 or KN95, some parts that are indoors and some outdoors and try to be conscious of proximity. But you do get close to people if you're going to buy something or look at something they're showing. Are masks getting too much of saying they're too safe, and are we depending on them too much? Should I just stay home until things get better or more vaccines, or are they really pretty reliable in those situations and can we feel safe going to those types of places?

[00:42:13] Bill Walsh: Right, Jean, thank you so much for that question. And it's a good one. There's been a lot of talk about the effectiveness of masks, and we are entering the season where people wanting to get out and going to fairs and festivals and sporting events. What advice do you have, Dr. Parekh?

[00:42:30] Anand Parekh: So outdoors is always better than indoors. We've learned that very well from our COVID experience the importance of good ventilation. We've also learned a lot about the quality of the masks, and cloth masks we've learned, particularly with these hyper-transmissible variants, just don't cut it. It's really important to have one of these N95 or KN95 masks, particularly if you're a senior, you're vulnerable and you're going in indoor environments. So I would highly suggest a high-quality mask. Again, outdoors always better than indoors, but if it is indoors, as long as you are fully up to date with your vaccination status, and you have access if you need it to test, you know where to go just in case you test positive to get access to treatment, then I think it's fine. I think it's important that we all live our lives. But be vigilant and make sure you have access to the resources should you need them.

[00:43:36] Bill Walsh: Okay, thank you for that. Jesse, who do we have next on the line?

[00:43:40] Jesse Salinas: The next caller is going to be Mary from Illinois.

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

[00:43:48] Mary: Thanks for taking my call. I took a J&J vaccine months ago. It was the first one I took and only required one, but since then, they've done away with that. There was something about blood clots. Now is there still danger of me having a blood clot from taking that?

[00:44:13] Bill Walsh: We seem to have lost Mary, but Doctor, perhaps you can fill Mary and others in on the status of the J&J vaccine and kind of its safety profile right now. And I also wonder if people had gotten the J&J vaccine, what should they do about a booster?

[00:44:30] Anand Parekh: Well, the recommendation is to get boosted if you had your J&J vaccine. You're right, there were side effects related to blood clots in close proximity to the vaccine. So if you're many months out, it's not something you need to be concerned about, but still very important to get boosted. And the most effective way to get boosted is with one of the mRNA vaccines. So getting either a Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccine to boost your immunity on top of the initial Johnson & Johnson would be my recommendation. But again, another good question to talk to your health care professional about, just really important to get boosted irrespective of the initial vaccine that you received.

[00:45:21] Bill Walsh: Okay, and Jesse, let's take another question.

[00:45:25] Jesse Salinas: Our next caller is Diane in Virginia.

[00:45:28] Bill Walsh: Hey, Diane. Welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question.

[00:45:33] Dany: Hi, it's actually Dainy. My question is, I had COVID in November 2020. I have been diagnosed as a long hauler. And unfortunately, the COVID attacked my kidney. I'm still having extreme cough, the shortness of breath, fatigue, and it's very debilitating for me. So I want to ask the doctor, do he really think that there would be some type of test that would diagnose long haulers? And also, now my feeling is that you will not be able to treat long haulers — you have to treat the symptoms for each individual symptom. Cause I had kidney failure, it attacked my kidneys. I see a nephrologist, I see a hematologist, and I also see a pulmonologist. So I have to see different doctors for the different problems that I'm having. So my main question is, will there ever really be a test that can diagnose long haulers?

[00:46:42] Bill Walsh: All right. Doctor, so Dainy was asking, you heard it. Is there going to be a test for long COVID, and is she right that the way you treat it is to treat the underlying issues, whether it's with her kidneys or heart or whatever.

[00:47:02] Anand Parekh: Yes, she's likely right, and sorry Dainy to hear about your symptoms. Again, there's active research ongoing now to see if there's a way we can diagnosis this. One of the things that we're unclear about is, is long COVID happening because the virus is still in the body, if you will, or is it the immune system or the inflammatory process in the body causing these long-term types of symptoms. So based on the answer to that question, we'll be able to figure out whether there can actually be a diagnostic test. But I think you're right in the sense that ultimately, depending on the individual symptoms that someone has, treatment will likely be guided towards that. So if it's cough and shortness of breath and pulmonary symptoms, there's going to be treatments for that. If there are kidney ailments, there'll be treatments for that. So more than likely, unless they find for some reason that the virus is still circulating and could there be some specific treatment, more than likely the treatments will be directed to the organ systems in the body that continue to produce the symptoms. So I believe you're correct.

[00:48:20] Bill Walsh: Okay, thanks for that. Jesse, let's take another call. Who do we have on the line?

[00:48:25] Jesse Salinas: The next caller is Bonnie from Texas.

[00:48:29] Bill Walsh: Hey, Bonnie, welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question. Hey, Bonnie, are you with us?

[00:48:39] Bonnie: Yes, I am. I'm sorry, I was speaking to mute.

[00:48:42] Bill Walsh: That happens, no worries. Go ahead with your question.

[00:48:44] Bonnie: Thank you, thank you. Yes, my question has to do with a COVID-19 antibody prevention medication called Evusheld. What can you tell me about it, and are you aware of it? I understand it has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

[00:49:04] Bill Walsh: Let's ask Dr. Parekh about that. Evusheld, are you familiar with it, Doctor, and what can you tell us about it?

[00:49:11] Anand Parekh: Yeah. So it's a medication specifically for individuals who are immunocompromised, and a medication that can prevent you from getting COVID in the first place. And it is certainly something that is available now, something that you should talk to your health care provider about whether you have an indication. It is also something that has been difficult relatively to access. So I think there is a lot of focus right now on ensuring people know about it and increasing accessibility so individuals can receive it. So, again, it's really focused on the individuals whose immune system is limited or immunocompromised.

[00:49:57] Bill Walsh: Okay, thanks so much for that. Jesse, who do we have up next?

[00:50:02] Jesse Salinas: Yes, our next caller is going to be from Alan in New York.

[00:50:07] Bill Walsh: Hey, Alan. Welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question. Alan, welcome to the program. Go ahead with your question.

[00:50:19] Jesse Salinas: It looks like we lost him, Bill. Let's move on.

[00:50:21] Bill Walsh: Let's move on.

[00:50:23] Jesse Salinas: Rick in Pennsylvania.

[00:50:25] Bill Walsh: Hey, Rick. Hey, Rick, go ahead with your question. Welcome to the program.

[00:50:30] Rick: Yeah, I would like to know if we're going to get, if we need another booster shot after this fourth one? And if so, when would it be? I just got my shot in September.

[00:50:46] Bill Walsh: Well, we talked about this a little bit earlier. Doctor, what can you tell people who have had all of their boosters? Are there more in store for this? Is this going to be an annual thing do you think?

[00:50:58] Anand Parekh: Well, first of all, for everyone who's gotten their booster, their first booster and second booster, if they're eligible, I think that is great. And continuing, Bill, to stay vigilant is really important. Whether or not there'll be more boosters in the future is really entirely dependent upon what the data looks like. And as I mentioned, many people are closely studying now reinfection rates, hospitalization rates, stats, looking at antibody levels to determine whether in the future more boosters will be necessary. So it's a little bit too early to know. As I said, there's also significant research on coming up with a newer and better vaccine targeted towards the omicron variant. So I think we're going to learn more over the summer and in the fall. But there is definitely a possibility before the end of the year that either another booster or a new vaccine against, again, targeted towards the omicron variant may be available and may be particularly important for vulnerable Americans and seniors as well. So we just don't know yet the answer to that question, but hopefully in the coming months we'll know more.

[00:52:17] Bill Walsh: Okay, very good. Jesse, let's take another call.

[00:52:21] Jesse Salinas: We're going to move to Patty in New York.

[00:52:23] Bill Walsh: Hey, Patty. Welcome to our program. Go ahead with your question.

[00:52:28] Patty: Thank you, sir. I'm trying to find out how many antivirals are available for the public, and what are the contraindications and side effects of each of them. And also ...

[00:52:42] Bill Walsh: Oh, I'm sorry. We lost Patty, but she was asking about how many antivirals are available and what the contraindications are. Can you talk a little bit about that, Dr. Parekh?

[00:52:52] Anand Parekh: Sure, sure. So I think the most important antiviral out there right now is Paxlovid, and the reason it's probably the most important is because it's oral. So you may have heard in the past about these monoclonal antibody infusions. Well with Paxlovid, you no longer have to go to the hospital and be hooked up intravenously and receive medication. You can, over the course of five days, take these oral antiviral drugs. And again, particularly for individuals over the age of 65, whether you're vaccinated or not, if you can take these medicines within five days of onset of symptoms, you can substantially lower the risk of being hospitalized. So I think that's really important. Now, there are some important notes about Paxlovid, that's why it's important to talk to your health care provider about Paxlovid, particularly if you have, for example, liver or kidney disease. Also, if you're taking other drugs, because there are a number of drugs that affect Paxlovid, for example, anti-cholesterol medications. So there may be some medications that you're on that need to come off for a few days or a week or two when you're on Paxlovid. And then in terms of side effects for Paxlovid, I think particularly again if you have liver problems, there are side effects you can have, that's why it's important to talk to your health care provider about this. There are also some side effects, for example, if you have untreated HIV infection. But overall, the side effects for the medication are not major. The benefit/risk ratio is substantially in favor of benefit, particularly if you're older. The last thing I will mention, Bill, which I think is important: There are some reports that in about 5 to 10 percent of cases, individuals taking Paxlovid, they get better, but the symptoms then come back, and they have a positive test. The symptoms are mild, but they have to isolate again. This is what's called sort of the COVID rebound with Paxlovid, and researchers aren't quite sure why this is happening. Perhaps the Paxlovid is being underdosed, perhaps the need for more days. So there's a lot of research going on there. But I do want listeners to know that in a small percentage of cases, people who take this medicine, they get better but the symptoms come back for a few days. Again, these are mild and certainly in those are over the age of 65, again, the benefits outweigh the risks here.

[00:55:26] Bill Walsh: Okay, very good. Dr. Parekh, we've talked a fair amount about vaccines, and you've suggested there may be new developments coming soon. The Food and Drug Administration will consider another COVID vaccine option soon, one that's currently approved in Europe. What are the differences and concerns for the Novavax vaccine, and what do older adults need to know about it?

[00:55:53] Anand Parekh: So this is a new vaccine that the FDA is right now considering. It is a protein-based vaccine, so the way they develop the vaccine is they take what's called a spike protein of the coronavirus and introduce it as a vaccine, and your body's immune system then is activated. So in many ways, it's the traditional way of producing a vaccine versus this new mRNA technology with Moderna as well as Pfizer. It looks like — and FDA's advisory committee just looked at this yesterday — it looks like the safety profile and the effectiveness profile is as good as all the other vaccines. Now, FDA hasn't yet authorized it yet, because they're looking at some manufacturing issues that the company has had in the past. But if they do authorize this, this is another vaccine again for those who are unvaccinated. So this is not yet for those needing a booster, but for those who are unvaccinated to those vaccines using traditional technology. And I think, Bill, that could be important because there are some people out there who have not gotten vaccinated because they just had too many unanswered questions about this new mRNA technology. Well, this Novavax vaccine is a traditional technology, and it could very well be that some Americans out there unvaccinated — there are still a couple of million seniors will have never gotten their first shot — they could be persuaded finally to get vaccinated because this is more of a traditional vaccine, at least from a technology perspective. So I think we have to wait and see here. We don't want to get ahead of the FDA, but indeed, if they do authorize this, it is another opportunity for Americans who are unvaccinated to become vaccinated.

[00:57:44] Bill Walsh: Okay. Thanks for that. Jesse, let's go back to the lines and take another call.

[00:57:49] Jesse Salinas: We're going to go with Alan in Wisconsin.

[00:57:51] Bill Walsh: Hey, Alan. Welcome to our program. Go ahead. Hey, how are you? Go ahead with your question.

[00:57:58] Alan: My question is also regards to antibody testing. I've had three, you know, three shots total — two boosters, one regular — and my doctor's telling me I'm due for another one. I had an antibody test, which was a hundred plus or whatever the highest reading is that you can get for that test. So I kind of questioned this. Is it the right time to get another one now —I can't get any better based on that test — or to wait another couple of months when maybe lights are going off or whatever?

[00:58:37] Bill Walsh: Right, thanks so much for that question, Alan. Dr. Parekh, what advice do you have for folks in Alan's situation? Should he continue to wait or what?

[00:58:50] Anand Parekh: So the current medical advice is really not to follow antibody levels, but really follow the guidelines, CDC recommendations. So when you're eligible for that next booster to go ahead and get that booster, not to try to time things, because you don't quite know what's coming down the pike. So my advice would be if you're eligible for that next booster now, irrespective of what may happen in the future or antibody levels, it's a good thing to go ahead and get that booster. And checking antibody levels with regularity is really not something that most physicians are currently looking at.

[00:59:36] Bill Walsh: Okay, thank you for that. This has been a really informative discussion. I want to thank both of our guests for their information and insights today. 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. All of the resources referenced today, including a recording of today's Q&A event can be found at the following website: aarp.org/coronavirus, beginning tomorrow, June 10. Go there if your question was not addressed, and you'll find the latest updates as well as information created specifically for older adults and family caregivers. And if you're looking for Medicare assistance during COVID-19, please visit the following website: shiphelp.org/COVID-19. We hope you learned something that can help keep you and your loved ones healthy. Please join us again on September 15 for another live coronavirus Q&A event. Thank you and have a good day. This concludes our call.

Coronavirus: Living With COVID

Listen to a replay of the event above

Join AARP and special guests Anand Parekh, M.D., M.P.H., chief medical advisor, Bipartisan Policy Center, and Jessica Rosenworcel, chairwoman, Federal Communications Commission, for this live Q&A event. We will provide the latest updates on COVID boosters, antivirals, and the complications of and treatment for long-COVID. We will also discuss the correlation between the lack of high-speed internet and COVID deaths, with efforts underway to provide access to more Americans, and helpful resources.

The experts: 

Anand Parekh, M.D., M.P.H.
Chief Medical Advisor
Bipartisan Policy Center

Jessica Rosenworcel
Chairwoman
Federal Communications Commission


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


Replay previous AARP Coronavirus Tele-Town Halls

  • October 21 - Coronavirus: Vaccines, Treatments and Flu Season
  • September 29 - Coronavirus: Vaccines, Flu Season and Telling Our Stories
  • September 15 - Coronavirus: Finding Purpose as we Move Beyond COVID
  • June 2 - Coronavirus: Living With COVID
  • May 5 - Coronavirus: Life Beyond the Pandemic
  • April 14Coronavirus: Boosters, Testing and Nursing Home Safety
  • March 24Coronavirus: Impact on Older Adults and Looking Ahead
  • March 10Coronavirus: What We’ve Learned and Moving Forward
  • February 24Coronavirus: Current State, What to Expect, and Heart Health
  • February 10 - Coronavirus: Omicron, Vaccines and Mental Wellness
  • January 27 - Coronavirus: Omicron, Looking Ahead, and the Impact on Nursing Homes
  • January 13 - Coronavirus: Staying Safe During Changing Times
  • December 16 - Coronavirus: What You Need to Know About Boosters, Vaccines & Variants
  • December 9 - Coronavirus: Boosters, Vaccines and Your Health
  • November 18 - Coronavirus: Your Questions Answered — Vaccines, Misinformation & Mental Wellness
  • November 4 - Coronavirus: Boosters, Health & Wellness
  • October 21 - Coronavirus: Protecting Your Health & Caring for Loved Ones
  • October 7 - Coronavirus: Boosters, Flu Vaccines and Wellness Visits
  • September 23 - Coronavirus: Delta Variant, Boosters & Self Care
  • September 9 - Coronavirus: Staying Safe, Caring for Loved Ones & New Work Realities
  • August 26 - Coronavirus: Staying Safe, New Work Realities & Managing Finances
  • August 12 - Coronavirus: Staying Safe in Changing Times
  • June 24 - The State of LGBTQ Equality in the COVID Era
  • June 17 - Coronavirus: Vaccines And Staying Safe During “Reopening”
  • June 3 - Coronavirus: Your Health, Finances & Housing
  • May 20 - Coronavirus: Vaccines, Variants and Coping
  • May 6 - Coronavirus: Vaccines, Variants and Coping
  • April 22 - Your Vaccine Questions Answered and Coronavirus: Vaccines and Asian American and Pacific Islanders
  • April 8 - Coronavirus and Latinos: Safety, Protection and Prevention and Vaccines and Caring for Grandkids and Loved Ones
  • April 1 - Coronavirus and The Black Community: Your Vaccine Questions Answered
  • March 25 - Coronavirus: The Stimulus, Taxes and Vaccine
  • March 11 - One Year of the Pandemic and Managing Personal Finances and Taxes
  • February 25 - Coronavirus Vaccines and You
  • February 11 - Coronavirus Vaccines: Your Questions Answered
  • January 28 - Coronavirus: Vaccine Distribution and Protecting Yourself
    & A Virtual World Awaits: Finding Fun, Community and Connections
  • January 14 - Coronavirus: Vaccines, Staying Safe & Coping and Prevention, Vaccines & the Black Community
  • January 7 - Coronavirus: Vaccines, Stimulus & Staying Safe