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.