Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes ofwebsite accessibility'It means the world to them': Vaccines reunite older adults with friends, family | KECI
Close Alert

'It means the world to them': Vaccines reunite older adults with friends, family

Carmela Sileo, left, and Susan McEachern sit next to each other and talk in the dayroom Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021, at Arbor Springs Health and Rehabilitation Center in Opelika, Ala. (AP Photo/Julie Bennett)
Carmela Sileo, left, and Susan McEachern sit next to each other and talk in the dayroom Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021, at Arbor Springs Health and Rehabilitation Center in Opelika, Ala. (AP Photo/Julie Bennett)
Facebook Share IconTwitter Share IconEmail Share Icon
Comment bubble

Older Americans will be among the first to taste some of the freedoms of post-pandemic life after the Centers for Disease Control released interim guidelines allowing fully vaccinated people to socialize and return to more activities.

Of the roughly 93 million vaccines that have been administered nationwide, adults over 65 years old have gotten more than half of the shots.

As of Tuesday, at least 60% of Americans over 65 received at least one COVID-19 shot and 30% have gotten both doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. The figures are even stronger for adults over 75 years old, 70% of whom have received at least one dose.

Under newly released guidelines, the CDC cleared vaccinated adults to visit with friends, children and grandchildren, providing welcome news for millions of families that have been kept apart for the last year.

People who are fully vaccinated can now gather with other vaccinated people indoors with no masks or social distancing. They can also visit unvaccinated people in a single household as long as no one in that household is considered to be at high risk for COVID-19 complications.

"So, what does this mean? If you and a friend or you and a family member are both vaccinated, you can have dinner together [without] wearing masks, without distancing. You can visit your grandparents if you have been vaccinated and they have been too," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters Monday.

Vaccinated people should still wear masks, avoid crowds and unnecessary travel. The guidance is preliminary and public health officials expect the list of activities will continue to grow as more people get the shot.

"It's a really important first step in getting back to normal for so many older adults, particularly now, having the chance to visit with family and friends," said Kathleen Cameron, senior director of the Center for Healthy Aging at the National Center on Aging.

Visiting family will likely be first on the list of post-vaccine activities for many people. After so many phone calls and Zoom calls, there's no substitute for in-person visits and physical contact, Cameron noted. "I think it means the world to them after having a year of not being able to do that."

Two weeks after a person gets their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, they have about a 6% chance of getting a moderate case of COVID-19. Clinical data show the risk of serious infection, hospitalization or death is eliminated after getting the two-dose regimen or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Each vaccine has proven effective against new virus variants.

There may still be a risk that vaccinated people can spread the virus, which is why the CDC recommends vaccinated people continue to wear masks and social distance when mixing with non-vaccinated people. Early studies suggest that people who have gotten the vaccine may be less likely to pass the virus to others, though the data are inconclusive.

"These vaccines should allow people to feel much more comfortable that they really are protected," West Virginia's COVID-19 Czar Dr. Clay Marsh told WCHS. "The new guidelines say you can be with other people with no masks...and if you want to hug people, you can hug people."

At the same time, Marsh urged people to move at a pace they feel comfortable. "There's never a downside to being cautious and careful," he said. Conversely, vaccinated people shouldn't feel like they're "imprisoned in their house or isolated."

It's understandable if some older Americans feel reluctant to jump back into activities with family, friends or within communal living situations where residents and staff are vaccinated. Of all COVID-19 deaths in the United States, 88% were among people over 60. They also deserve clear information on the risks to themselves and others.

"That's where education and dialogue with those communities are critical," said Pia MacDonald, an infectious disease epidemiologist at RTI International, a nonprofit research institute.

"They've lived in fear for a very long time about how deadly this disease could be. So, we need to work very hard on the communication and dialogue piece to make sure they understand not just the guidelines the CDC is pushing out but why those guidelines are what they are and the science behind them," MacDonald continued.

Clinical studies suggest that everyone who took the vaccine was protected against severe COVID-19, hospitalization and death. In a sign the vaccine campaign is working, nursing homes reported an 82% decline in COVID-19 cases since December and a 63% decline in deaths.

Vaccine developers and the CDC are still unsure about how long vaccine-induced immunity lasts. There are also questions about whether vaccinated people can spread the virus and the level of efficacy against new virus variants. People are encouraged to consult their doctor about specific health conditions or concerns.

Mask-wearing, social distancing and avoiding crowds remain necessary, regardless of vaccination status, the CDC said in its new guidelines. "However, the benefits of reducing social isolation and relaxing some measures such as quarantine requirements may outweigh the residual risk of fully vaccinated people becoming ill with COVID-19 or transmitting SARS-CoV-2 to others."

Throughout the pandemic, Americans of all ages have struggled with isolation and loneliness. Across demographics, there have been growing incidents of depression and anxiety. A study by the University of Michigan showed that loneliness doubled among people over 50. Another study suggested that older adults were more resilient and cope better with emotional stress than young people.

"Already, seniors are at risk for isolation and this has just exacerbated it," MacDonald said. "I think it's going to take us a while to fully understand the impact."

While some older Americans are wading carefully into normal life, others are diving in and that's being seen in post-quarantine travel plans.

Nearly three-quarters of older Americans who received the vaccine said they were going to hit the road for spring break, according to a survey by Harvest Hosts. More than half of those respondents said they planned to travel more in 2021 than they did in 2019.

While cruises are still out of the question for most travelers, many older Americans are flocking to all-inclusive resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean that provide perks like free COVID testing, medical insurance and ample social distancing, Travel Pulse reported.

A recent survey by Virtuoso found up to 83% of adults 65 or older were ready to travel, with many of them looking forward to visiting close family.

The CDC still recommends the general public and vaccinated people avoid nonessential travel. Historically, more travel correlates with more COVID-19 cases. Travel remains a particular concern because of the possibility of spreading several more transmissible variants circulating around the United States and globally.

Experts emphasized that there is a safe middle ground between isolation and spring break.

Retirement communities and independent living facilities are beginning to open up more opportunities for vaccinated residents, like communal dining, outdoor activities and more social past times.

Most senior centers are still closed or offering very limited programs, according to the National Center on Aging. Cameron hopes that in the coming months, more activities will be available to more participants, especially as the weather improves.

Comment bubble

"People who are vaccinated should definitely take advantage of them," she said. There are over 600 area agencies on aging across the country and they have seen increased interest from older adults and family members.

Loading ...