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Opinion Pieces

COVID-19 vaccines give hope for our seniors

They are called the Greatest Generation for a reason.

They sacrificed without asking for celebration. They took responsibility for themselves, and they took care of their neighbors. When their country called, they stepped up and said, "I will serve." They didn't quit easily, and they don't scare easily. You saw it in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. You still see it today in VFW posts and in bingo halls across the country, at church and at voting centers, at the local diner, and on Honor Flights. They are a generation that has spent decades stepping up, showing up, and serving their communities.

This year, we've asked even more of them.

Only this time, amidst the global coronavirus pandemic, society has asked them to stop. Stop volunteering in your communities. Stop gathering for birthdays, weddings, holidays, and funerals. Stop visiting your neighbors or hugging your loved ones.

Our elders are one of our most vulnerable populations — accounting for approximately 80 percent of all COVID-related deaths— and they deserve to be protected. But the precautions taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 come at a very real cost. "Staying home" is not a long-term solution. The collateral damage can look like missed diagnoses, missed medical treatments, and missed early interventions. The decline in physical activity and social interaction, combined with a more limited ability to stay connected or informed through digital sources or technology, has contributed to one in four older adults reporting that their mental health has suffered amidst the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Loneliness and extended isolation can lead to drug abuse, depression, and suicide.

Looking ahead, however, Operation Warp Speed provides a concrete reason for hope on the horizon.

In under a year, the scientific community has made incredible progress towards developing treatments and vaccines for this novel coronavirus. Currently, multiple prospective vaccines have demonstrated 90-95 percent efficacy in late-stage trials, with plans for immediate distribution coming into place. Already, tens of thousands of American citizens from all walks of life have volunteered for and participated in the trials. This monumental achievement should not be lost on the public. Previously, the mumps vaccine was the fastest ever to have been developed — and it took four years.

Safe and effective vaccines are critical to allowing our nation's elders to restore their way of life. That is why the first doses will be distributed to those most at risk, such as healthcare workers and our senior population. After everything our elders have contributed to our country, they deserve to be able to hold their grandchildren again, to visit their trusted physicians, to volunteer, to go to church, and to live their lives.

This progress towards a solution is too important to be politicized. It is a disservice to the American public for certain elected officials or members of the media to cast doubt, without data or evidence, on the scientific work to develop a safe and effective FDA-approved vaccine. It undermines the critical efforts of our scientists, doctors, and medical researchers, who are working around the clock. People must come before politics. Let the science speak for itself.

Over past decades, our nation's elders have demonstrated tremendous resilience. They are the torchbearers for sacrifice and service amidst uncertainty. Now, it is time to give back to those who gave so much to us. We must unite around scientific solutions and restore our way of life — starting with our nation's seniors.