AARP: Vaccinate seniors now!Leaders respond. Add YOUR voice.

Published in RINewsToday.com on January 25, 2021

The debate heats up as to how Rhode Island should distribute its limited stock of COVID-19 vaccine. Days ago, AARP Rhode Island urged state officials and lawmakers to put seniors on the top of the list to protect their lives. Older Rhode Islanders should be a priority in getting vaccinated, says the state’s largest nonprofit. 

AARP Rhode Island, generally speaking, reserves sending public letters to public officials for the most critical of issues. Because of the pandemic, a critical issue, AARP is reaching out to its 132,000 Ocean State members and the public at large to demand immediate change.

“The message AARP wants sent to the Governor and State Leaders reads, in part, “Rhode Islanders 50 and older account for 98% of the state’s more than 2,000 COVID deaths. Yet only a quarter of vaccinations to date have been administered to older Rhode Islanders. You must revise the plan to vaccinate the most vulnerable among us. I am therefore calling on you to revise the state vaccination plan immediately to prioritize vaccinating our 50 and older population. There is no time to waste,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell.

A Call to Revising the State’s Vaccination Distribution Plan

Connell added, “Now that the state has responded to AARP Rhode Island’s call to make the state’s COVID vaccination plan and its execution more transparent, I am alarmed and dismayed to find data only now available reveals that just 25% of vaccinations to date have been administered to Rhode Islanders age 60 and older.”

“The current disparity — which flies in the face of federal health recommendations and causes great concern for many older Rhode Islanders and their families — is inexplicable, life threatening and unacceptable,” says Connell. 

AARP Rhode Island’s work is part of a nationwide effort, says Connell. “AARP is advocating hard to ensure every older American who wants to get the vaccine can get it,” said AARP Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer Nancy A. LeaMond.

“It’s also vital that distribution plans for authorized vaccines are smoothly implemented,” LeaMond added. “There’s no time to waste: it’s time for full-scale mobilization, and any delays or early bottlenecks in distribution systems need to be addressed urgently. AARP remains committed to protecting the health and well-being of our nearly 38 million members and all Americans as we work together to defeat this virus,” she said.

Rhode Island leaders respond to AARP’s call

Speaker of the House of Representatives Shekarchi:

“We all want the most at-risk people, including our seniors, to have access to the vaccine absolutely as soon as possible. My father is 94, and it will be a tremendous relief to me and my family when he is protected,” said House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23 Warwick). “President Biden’s timeline includes prioritizing access to the vaccine for those 65 and older, and it’s important that we comply with it,” he says.  

“I understand we need greater supply. Our House COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force will vigilantly monitor the distribution to ensure our state is doing everything we can to get the vaccine to those most at risk, particularly those 65 and older, as soon as possible, in cooperation with the federal government,” adds Shekarchi.

Dr. Chan, RI Dept. of Health:

In a Jan. 22 email vaccine update, Dr. Phillip A. Chan, MD, MS, the Rhode Island Department of Health’s (RIDOH) Consultant Medical Director, reported that 66,070 doses of vaccine had been administered in Rhode Island (52,925 first doses, and 13,145 second doses). “We are working hard to distribute vaccine, but supply remains very limited. Right now, we’re receiving enough first doses each week for about 1.5 percent of our population. While other states are in the same position, Rhode Island ranks among the top states nationally in terms of the rate of second doses administered,” he said.

As to the vaccination distribution timetable, Chan noted that nursing home residents and staff began to get vaccinated in December. “This week, we started to vaccinate in assisted living facilities and other congregate living settings.  By middle of February, we expect the vaccine will be available for adults 75 and older,” he says. 

According to Chan, there are 187,000 Rhode Islanders age 65 or older. “Since we are only getting 14,000 first doses of vaccine a week, we are taking a stepwise approach to this group as well,” he noted in RIDOH’s vaccine update.  “Please note that there is no action older adults need to take at this time to get a vaccine. When we are ready to start vaccinating this population, we will communicate with the public, healthcare providers, and community organizations to provide instructions.”

Incoming Governor, Lt. Gov. McKee:

Meeting outside Lt. Gov. Dan McKee’s Cumberland home, WPRI reporters, Eli Sherman and Brittany Schaefer, got insight into McKee’s thoughts about the state’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout strategy and issues surrounding this distribution. They report the details in a Jan. 23 WPRI blog article, “McKee: Teachers should get vaccine before others in Rhode Island.” McKee will move into the governor’s seat once Gov. Gina Raimondo is confirmed as U.S. Commerce Secretary.  

Here are some points from McKee’s interview in the Sherman and Schaefer’s blog article: 

“We need to really move up on the list teachers and the support staff in schools,” McKee said. “We’re not going to open the economy until we do that, and teachers are not going to feel comfortable by and large until we get them vaccinated.” (Teachers are not in the Rhode Island Department of Health’s phase one vaccination rollout)

“Prioritizing educators would inevitably delay vaccinations for all non-educators, and McKee did not name any other group Saturday that he thought should be prioritized. When asked specifically about adults 65 years and older, McKee said he expected they would also be prioritized, but underscored the state is only receiving a limited amount of supply of the vaccine from the federal government,” says the WPRI blog.

President Joe Biden encourages states to make it a priority to vaccinate people age 65 and over, along with grocery store workers and teachers. No specifics have been released yet by his administration. 

“I think it’s a supply issue, but that age group is a priority,” McKee said. “We’re going to follow the lead of the Biden administration”.  

Stay tuned as the debate continues on how Rhode Island should disseminate its limited COVID-19 stockpile – and what it can move to when the flow of vaccine becomes more generous.

Give Governor Gina Raimondo your thoughts as to AARP Rhode Island’s call for vaccinating people age 50 and over “immediately”.  Here’s the governor’s contact details:  Governor Gina Raimondo, 82 Smith Street, Providence, RI 02903; email: governor@governor.ri.gov; phone: (401) 222-8096. 

The Best of…Experts: Eat Less, Exercise

Published January 2007, Senior Digest

            As we begin the New Year, many people launch promises through New Year’s resolutions or take this time to reflect on overall better lifestyle improvements.    State aging and health care experts say that if your goal is to live longer, consider squeezing in time to enhance your fitness and health through ongoing exercise and better eating.

           Phillip G. Clark, ScD, Professor and Director Program in Gerontology and Rhode Island Geriatric Education Center, notes that exercise is key to living a healthier life.  “Use it or lose it,” he tells Senior Digest.   If older adults don’t continue to use their capabilities, whether physical or mental, they may eventually lose those abilities. So, it is important for aging baby boomers and seniors to continue to be as active as they can, within the limits of any impairments or health problems they may have.

           Before beginning any program always check with your doctor to be sure it is okay. “Your doctor will advise you on other special conditions or limitations you may need to address in developing your own program,” Dr. Clark says.

Exercise, the Best Pill

          Dr. Clark believes that exercise is the “best pill,” Regular exercise for older adults are linked to all sorts of positive physical and mental health outcomes and advantages, he says.  People just feel better physically and mentally especially if they exercise properly on a regular basis.

          The University of Rhode Island (URI) gerontologist compares physical activity to a savings account.  Dr. Clark says, “If you ‘put’ deposits into your exercise savings on a regular basis, you can ‘draw’ on these when you are sick or have to hospitalized to help minimize the impact of any setback on your functioning.”  

          To exercise, costly weight machines and bikes are not necessary, Clark says.  “Keep it simple,” Dr. Clark recommends.  “For many older adults, just walking regularly can have a number of positive benefits. In the winter when the weather is bad, some folks walk around inside their local senior housing building or at the mall,” he says.

             Deb Riebe, PhD., a Professor in URI’s Department to Kinesiology, says that research has found resistance training is another viable option for aging baby boomers and seniors to consider staying fit.  .

 Consider Resistance Training and Balance Exercises

             The URI exercise physiologist notes that muscle strength peaks at age 30 for most people.  After age 50, there is a real decline in muscle strength.  By your 60s or 70s, if you don’t exercise or participate in a resistance training program it will become more difficult to perform simple activities of daily living, like carrying the vacuum cleaner or groceries, says Riebe.

             Strengthening your muscles can be done simply by lifting small hand weights that can purchased in local stores, adds Riebe, noting that you can use your own body weight to strengthen your muscles in your legs by sitting in your dining room and than standing up.  Perform this simple resistance training exercise 10 times.

             “Balance exercises are also very good to prevent a person from falling.  “A good example of a balance exercise is to stand up on one leg using a chair for support,” she says.  

             Don’t use lack of time as a reason to not exercise, warns Riebe.  “Fit 30 or 40 minutes of exercise into your daily routine.  But for those who chose not to you can always park your car far away from a store and walk a little longer distance.  Or you do a few exercises during a television commercial, “combining leisure with a quick work out,” she says.

              Even when socializing with friends or family, Riebe recommends going out and taking a walk around the neighborhood.  “Everyone will benefit,” she says… 

               Anne Marie Connolly, MS, Director of Rhode Island’s Get Fit Rhode Island, Program, oversees Governor Donald Carcieri’s worksite wellness initiative for state employees.  Programs like Rhode Island’s are being launched nationwide by the mandate of state health commissioners and insurance companies attempting to reel in spiraling health care costs. 

               To improve health behavior, brochures, on site lectures (controlling stress and high blood pressure) and behavior change classes (physical exercise and smoking cessation) are aimed at the 20,000 state workers, whose average age is 47 years old.

 Good Nutrition Important, Too

              Connolly, a professor and research associate at URI’s Kinesiology Department stresses the importance that nutrition plays in maintaining one’s good health.  “Research tells us that people should eat smaller portions, increase their fruit and vegetable and decrease fat, high calorie foods and sweets from their diet,” she recommends.

              For persons with high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes, consider asking your physician for a consult to see a nutritionist.  Connolly notes that this visit is covered by most of health insurance companies.  “A change in your diet can make significant improvements in many chronic conditions.” 

              Connolly observes that some people don’t buy vegetables and fruits because of cost.  “Look around for supermarkets that offer smaller packaging or portions of vegetables and fruits. Salad and fruit bars enable a person to buy to portion or quantity they need,”: she says.  Even in senior housing, you can work with others to buy cheaply.  Split a head of lettuce with a neighbor. Create a schedule to rotate the purchasing of fruits and vegetables, too.   

              As to exercise, Connolly suggests people start off slowly, more important find an exercise that you will like to do.  As a consultant to Club Med, she came to believe that exercise should be fun and not a chore.  “Look back and see what you did when you were younger,” Connolly adds.  “One woman who took tap dancing in her younger years picked it up again.  It does not have to have to be the same intensity as when you were younger.”   

              For persons with arthritis, try going to a local senior center or YMCA and enroll in exercise programs specifically designed for that chronic condition.  “Water exercise is extremely wonderful for people with arthritis,” she says.

               Connolly notes that some Medicare providers even give special discounts for senior citizens who join health care club chains, costing the older person just $10.00 per month.  Check out your Medicare health care plan’s benefits to see if you are eligible to participate.

              Experts agree that the exercise benefits both young and old. “What is remarkable about the human body, people of all ages respond to physical exercise in the same way,” Connolly says.  .

               Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based writer whose articles on health, medical and aging issue.  This article was published in January 2007 in Senior Digest. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.