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At White House Event, AARP CEO Urges Americans to Get COVID-19 Vaccines

Jenkins introduces first lady and poses questions to experts from AARP members

First lady Jill Biden, second from left, speaks during the opening remarks of a virtual White House town hall in the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex in Washington, Friday, Dec. 9, 2022, on getting an updated COVID-19 vaccine this holiday season, especially for Americans ages 50 and older. She is joined by, from left, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins, and White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
First lady Jill Biden, second from left, speaks during the opening remarks of a virtual White House town hall on getting an updated COVID-19 vaccine this holiday season, especially for Americans ages 50 and older. She is joined by, from left, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins, and White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha.
AP Photo/Susan Walsh

AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins moderated a virtual COVID-19 White House event Dec. 9 with two of the nation’s foremost experts on the virus — Ashish Jha, the Biden administration’s COVID-19 response coordinator, and Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical adviser.

The message to the American people was simple: As the holidays approach, make sure you are up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines.

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“Nearly three years into the pandemic, we’re all sick of sickness,” Jenkins said. “As much as we want the pandemic to be over, we also know that as we head into the winter holiday season, it’s especially important to do what is necessary to stay safe and healthy.”

Jenkins introduced first lady Jill Biden who made brief remarks, stressing the need for vaccination with the latest booster that targets the omicron variant as well as the original strain of the coronavirus. (It’s known as a bivalent booster.) “If you get it now, you’ll be protected in time for winter holiday gatherings,” Biden said. “This updated vaccine offers the best protection for you and your family against the version of the virus we're facing today.”

Why take the latest shot?

The questions for the two experts were kicked off by AARP member and retired physician Inday Williams of Washington, who said she is often asked why, if someone already has been vaccinated and boosted, they need the latest shot?

“One is that this virus has continued to evolve over the last two years,” Jha said, and the version circulating is very different from the strain that the original vaccines targeted.

Jha pointed out that immunity can wane over time. “This is why people need an annual flu shot because the virus changes and your immunity changes. Getting that updated bivalent vaccine is the single most important thing you can do to make sure your immunity is up to date.”

Fauci, outgoing director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, explained that for other illnesses, such as measles or polio, one vaccine will last years, even decades, but unfortunately, that’s not the case with COVID-19. “We’ve got to keep up with that virus and keep up with the waning immunity,” he said.

Jenkins relayed a question from an AARP member who asked how soon after getting COVID should they get another booster. Jha suggested three months. “Getting another vaccine on top (of being infected) really builds up your protection, especially right now with so much virus circulating out there.”

How many vaccines at one time?

A California AARP member asked whether it’s OK to get vaccinated for shingles and COVID at the same time. Fauci and Jha suggested that people wait a couple of weeks after getting one of those vaccines before taking the other — not because it would negatively affect someone’s immune system but because both shots at the same time could make a person’s arm or arms very sore.

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The two COVID experts did recommend getting both the COVID-19 vaccine and a flu shot at the same time, saying that is how they got their vaccinations.

The COVID vaccines continue to be free for people with private insurance, with no health insurance and for those on Medicare. Under a health law passed this summer, starting next year, vaccines recommended for adults by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will also be free to Medicare beneficiaries. That includes the shingles shot.

What about loved ones in nursing homes?

Jenkins relayed a question from another California AARP member who wrote that she feels helpless to protect her father, who is in a nursing facility, from getting COVID-19.

“People in nursing homes have in fact suffered so much,” Jha said, adding that the federal government requires that every resident of a nursing home be offered the vaccine. According to AARP’s latest COVID-19 dashboard, as of the end of October (the latest data available), only two in five nursing home residents and less than one-quarter of nursing home staff were up to date on COVID vaccines.

Jha advised the AARP member “to make sure that your father is being offered that COVID vaccine.” If he's not, Jha said, “get a family member, a loved one, to help them go to a CVS or Walgreens or Walmart and get that vaccine.”

Fauci suggested that people might want to test themselves for the coronavirus before visiting nursing home residents —  just to make doubly sure they are not carrying the infection.

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