The following is a transcript of an interview with AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins that aired Sunday, January 3, 2021, on “Face the Nation.”
MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to Jo Ann Jenkins, she is the CEO of the American Association of Retired Persons. You know it as AARP and she’s at their headquarters in Washington this morning. Good morning to you.
AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF RETIRED PERSONS CEO JO ANN JENKINS: Good morning, MARGARET.
MARGARET BRENNAN: December was a very deadly month during this pandemic, particularly for nursing home residents. The federal government plan is to have pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens set up clinics to vaccinate inside of these facilities. And it started in about 36 states just this past week. Is it moving fast enough?
JENKINS: Well, I think by every meas- questionable that it has not moved fast enough that, you know, 40% of the people who have died in this country live in nursing homes. And so, we see this really as an unconscionable national disaster that 350,000 people in this country have died from COVID-19 and 40% of them have lived in nursing homes or work in nursing homes, and yet they only represent 1% of the population. So, no, we’re not moving fast enough.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I didn’t hear a lot of specifics from- from the governor or from the head of Operation Warp Speed on what they want to change. And I’m wondering from you what your view is, because we did hear earlier in the week from Operation Warp Speed saying that some nursing homes aren’t vaccinating until they have enough doses for everyone in the facility. That’s a federal requirement. Should the government suspend it?
JENKINS: Well, I think that, you know, if you look at the data and the fact that that’s where people are dying, you have to come to the conclusion that they should be doing everything that they can to be administering this vaccine as soon as possible. I know that there are 2.2 million doses that have gone out to nursing homes, and yet only 13% of that has been administered. And so we have to find a solution and, you know, we need to stop pointing fingers and looking at who- who’s to blame. And really all of us, whether it’s mayors or governors or the federal or governors all across this country to really try to fix this problem.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So that’s a yes, they should lift that requirement?
JENKINS: Absolutely. Yes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: At- at the state level you- you heard a debate about whether the age qualification should be lowered more quickly, like it has been in Texas and in Florida. Would you ask other governors to do that?
JENKINS: Well, I think if you look at the data of where people are dying and if, in fact we can stop people from dying of COVID, we know that that will offer some relief to the hospitals all across this country. We have examples that we’re hearing from thousands of our members, particularly like those in Florida, who are standing in lines of 300, 400 of them at three and four o’clock in the morning trying to- to get that vaccination. I think that we have to really solve this issue and really come together so that there is some standard for which the states and the local nursing homes know how they’re going to get this vaccine and what it is they’re supposed to be doing.
MARGARET BRENNAN There’s confusion. I mean, I know people who- who ask, where do I find out when I qualify? What do you tell your members? Do they call their doctor? Do they get an email? Who do they ask? Their local health department?
JENKINS: Well, I think one of the things that we’ve tried to do at AARP is, you know, we have AARP.org/coronavirus where we’re listing everything that we have from the states about what- how the vaccine, the priorities in each of the states, how they’re going to be able to get their vaccinations. Clearly, we’re hearing directly from our members that they’re confused about whether or not they should be calling their physician, whether or not someone’s going to contact them, which of the vaccines should they be trying to take if they live in rural America or in an urban city, just how that’s going to happen. And I think that there could be some simple clarity and transparency about what is to be expected, the time frame that individuals all across this country should be thinking about. Clearly, we need to keep up the protections of wearing masks and washing our hands and doing all of those things. We shouldn’t let our guard down. But there needs to be further clarity about and- and expectations set about when this- vaccines are going to be administered widely.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think that staff in nursing homes should be mandated to take the vaccine?
JENKINS: Well, I think that the data tells us that that’s where the deaths are occurring and that for patients and people who work in nursing homes, they need to be protected in a way. But clearly, it’s not- it’s not ours to- to mandate a vaccine–
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, governors- governors would have to mandate that, right? Is that what you’re asking governors to do?
JENKINS: Well, I think that we’re saying to the governors that- that- this is a way to bring it under control and that while we at AARP don’t have the authority to- to mandate this, that this is one of the one of the only ways that we had that we know that this- this particular COVID-19 disease can be brought under control.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right and it may come down to employers. Jo Ann Jenkins, thank you very much for- for sharing what you’re seeing out there. We’ll be right back with a look at Tuesday’s Georgia Senate race. It’s an important one. Don’t go away.