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AARP Urges 'Full-Scale Mobilization' to Vaccinate Older Americans

After letter to HHS, Azar asks states to speed up COVID-19 vaccines for people 65 and over

GARDEN CITY, NEW YORK - JANUARY 10: People line up for COVID-19 vaccinations at Nassau Community College on January 10, 2021 in Garden City, New York.
People line up for COVID-19 vaccinations in Garden City, New York on January 11.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The federal government must quickly solve the problems that have slowed the availability of lifesaving doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to millions of Americans, AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins says in a letter sent Monday to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

"The supply of the vaccine does not come close to meeting the current demand,” Jenkins says. “We are also concerned about distribution problems and we strongly urge you to immediately address whatever barriers may be causing the delays. Full-scale mobilization is necessary, and any slowdowns or early bottlenecks in the production and distribution systems need to be urgently addressed." (Read the entire letter from AARP to HHS.)

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HHS officials had predicted that 20 million doses would be administered by the end of 2020, starting with health care workers and nursing home residents and staff. Since Dec. 14, about 9 million shots have been given.

Azar said Tuesday that the administration is now asking all states to begin vaccinating people age 65 and older, as well as those with underlying health conditions that put them at high risk for severe COVID-19. Some states had already started vaccinating residents 65-plus, though even in those states the rollout has been slow and frustrating for many due to limited doses and confusing sign-up procedures.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) initially recommended that states first prioritize health care workers and nursing home residents and staff (Phase 1a), and then turn to vaccinating Americans 75 and older and frontline essential workers (Phase 1b). Late last week the CDC emphasized that local officials can allow the various phases to overlap. Some states are following the CDC recommendations while others are deciding their own priorities.

"We now believe that our manufacturing is predictable enough that we can ensure second doses are available for people from ongoing production,” Azar told ABC's Good Morning America. “So everything is now available to our states and our health care providers.” Azar also said states should expand the places where people can get vaccinated, including community health centers and more pharmacies. He said the federal government will send teams to the states to help them set up vaccination centers.

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Vaccine process unclear

"We have heard so many questions from AARP members about when and how they can expect to be vaccinated, who will notify them, what information they will need to provide, and where they can sign up,” Jenkins says in her letter. “Clear information on what they can anticipate and when they may have the opportunity to receive the vaccine would be of tremendous value.”

The nation's public health administrators are largely state and locally based, and they decide the timing, procedures and who will be vaccinated when. AARP is publishing state-by-state guides to vaccine practices and rules, and it will update these resources as changes are made.

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Transparency needed

AARP also stressed the need for transparency in the vaccination process. Jenkins urged Azar to provide:

  • the numbers and percentages of people by age, race, ethnicity and state that have received the first or second vaccine doses;
  • the numbers and percentages of long-term care residents, by facility and state, that have received the first or second doses; and
  • the numbers and percentages of long-term care staff, by facility and state, that have received the first or second doses.

"It is of utmost importance that this information be updated as quickly as possible, even daily,” Jenkins says, adding that such information would improve confidence that the vaccine distribution process is fair.

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AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.

membership-card-w-shadow-192x134

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Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.