First Lady Dr. Jill Biden on Friday urged Americans over 50 to prioritize getting their updated COVID-19 vaccine before the holidays, speaking at the White House alongside the administration’s medical advisers and in tandem with the AARP.
With a focus on seniors, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical adviser, and Dr. Ashish Jha, who oversees the COVID-19 response, took questions gathered by the AARP from around the country — such as why they recommend another booster after last year’s or whether people should get their flu shot at the same time.
“The most important thing you can do to prepare for your holidays is to get your updated COVID vaccine,” Dr. Biden said, revealing that she just recently got hers.
“It helps protect you from ending up in the hospital or worse. It's free and available all over our country. I know you're busy, but this is important. I just got mine too,” she said.
More than 90% of deaths linked to COVID were in people over 50 years old, noted AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins.
“Now we're also seeing dangerous increases in the flu and RSV as well. But the good news is that each of us has the power to significantly reduce our risk of getting sick,” she said.
Jenkins acknowledged that many “continued questions” about the vaccines, inviting Drs. Fauci and Jha to answer some from AARP members.
The bivalent, or updated, COVID booster shot is designed to protect against the original coronavirus strain and the infectious omicron variants that spiked this year.
A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that for people who were two to three months past their first vaccines, the bivalent booster added around 30% protection against symptomatic COVID-19.
That protection increased with the number of months passed since the original doses. For people eight or more months past their last dose, for example, it offered 56% more protection for ages 18 to 49, 48% more for ages 50 to 64 and 43% more for people over 65.
Still, Dr. Jha on Friday said the winter months were a critical time to boost protection with the shot, and he recommended about a three-month waiting period since your last dose or COVID infection.
“After you've had an infection, you get some immunity benefit from that infection. Your immune system gets revved up,” he said. “You want to give your body a little bit of time off but three months is what we think is ideal.”
And your immunity also wanes over time, Dr. Fauci said, so it’s important not to wait too long.
“If you wait, you put yourself at risk,” he added.
The doctors also noted you can get your COVID and flu shots at once.
“I got both in the same arm. My arm was a little sore for about 24 hours, but it was one and done,” Jha said. “Your immune system is very good at being able to handle two vaccines at once.”
Fauci added that it’s important for older Americans to have the family members around them vaccinated too for ultimate protection.
And for those who are still a little hesitant? Look at the data, he said.
“If you look at the curve of deaths and hospitalization among unvaccinated people compared to vaccinated and boosted people, you really don't need a statistician to tell you what the right thing to do is,” Fauci said.
“You don't want to coerce anybody, but appeal to their reason that the data are overwhelming in that direction.”