En español | It’s encouraging to see how many older Americans have gotten a COVID-19 vaccine. More than 7 in 10 people 65-plus are now fully vaccinated, and nearly 60 percent of all adults have received a first dose. And the vast majority of nursing home residents have been vaccinated.
Your eagerness to be vaccinated and steadfast adherence to health and safety guidelines such as masking and social distancing have dramatically brought COVID cases and deaths down from their winter peaks. After struggling for more than a year through a pandemic that has sickened nearly 33 million Americans and taken the lives of more than 580,000 — more than 95 percent of whom were age 50-plus — the nation appears to be turning a corner.
Vaccinated grandparents are hugging their grandkids again. Workplaces are inviting employees to return to the office. Families are making plans for summer vacations and reunions. And, for the first time in more than a year, nursing home residents are holding hands with loved ones.
Last week brought more good news: Vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks or stay 6 feet apart in most cases, according to new federal guidelines. Finally, we can see each other laugh and smile.
But we must remain vigilant. Some parts of the country are not progressing as rapidly as others. Tens of thousands of new COVID-19 cases and hundreds of deaths are still reported each week. Vaccine hesitancy among the staff of many long-term care facilities, which have been home to more than a third of COVID-19 deaths, continues to be a challenge. And despite the widespread availability of vaccines, outreach and distribution to Black, Hispanic and Indigenous Americans are still a problem.
From the start of the vaccine rollout last year, AARP has strived to be a wise friend and fierce defender for older Americans. We urged federal and state officials to prioritize nursing home residents and staff for vaccines. We wrote to lawmakers and testified before Congress, calling for greater transparency and oversight in how such facilities handle future outbreaks.
As vaccine supplies increased we fought for all older Americans, who are at the highest risk of severe illness and death from COVID, to be prioritized. AARP pressed lawmakers to make COVID-19 vaccines free to all Americans.
Our work is far from over. We continue to call on elected officials to improve equity in vaccine distribution. Black Americans make up more than 12 percent of the population but have received less than 9 percent of COVID-19 shots. We’ve joined with several of the nation’s largest nonprofits to launch a COVID-19 vaccine equity and education initiative focused on Black Americans.
Our advocacy during the pandemic has gone far beyond vaccines. We’ve made sure that the needs of older Americans have been addressed in every pandemic relief bill. We successfully fought for Medicare to cover telehealth visits, for Social Security recipients to receive the same coronavirus stimulus payments as other Americans and for mandatory reporting of virus cases and deaths from nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
We continue to connect people with the information and support they need to navigate the pandemic. AARP has published online guides to being vaccinated in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, including Spanish-language versions. And we’ve shared guidance for working remotely, coping with isolation and caring for loved ones on aarp.org and in our publications, AARP The Magazine and The Bulletin.
We’ve also hosted nearly 400 tele-town halls, featuring trusted experts answering your questions, including Anthony Fauci and Francis Collins of the National Institutes of Health. Our volunteers, meanwhile, have had more than 19,000 conversations with isolated Americans as part of our new Friendly Voice initiative. And we built and launched AARP Community Connections, an online platform that has helped over 600,000 people organize and find mutual-aid groups and access support from trained volunteers in communities nationwide.
It’s heartwarming to hear how these efforts are making a difference. “Please keep up the good work,” an online reader recently wrote to us. “We all need clear, sensible advice on how to move forward in this uncertain terrain.”
“Since the COVID-19 pandemic I had to stop working and stay mostly at home,” wrote another, who started exercising to our Denise Austin fitness videos each morning. “Thank you, Denise and AARP, for helping me stay fit at home.”
We know that our work isn’t finished. COVID-19 continues to spread, and we’re doing all we can to make sure every American who wants a shot can easily get one. The decision is personal, but it has wide-ranging implications. Together we can defeat this virus and continue our return to normalcy.