For many seniors, whether they get a COVID-19 vaccine may depend on their family | Health news from the healthiest communities

When she saw the lines of cars on TV, Dana Chadwell knew that getting her parents vaccinated in her county was not an option.

It was late December and the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccination had finally started for priority groups, including the elderly and healthcare providers. Chadwell, a 46-year-old resident of Chattanooga, Ky., Wanted to get her parents vaccinated quickly, both aged 70 to 70 with significant health problems. But in Hamilton County where she and her parents live, people lined up for hours to wait in their cars for vaccines and, in some cases, found that the doses ran out. There was no way her parents could wait in line for hours and hours, she thought, especially if their efforts were unsuccessful.

So she took to social media, spending all day talking to other local residents about where they had gone to get the vaccine, and browsing the social media pages of community centers, large churches. , firefighters and health services in his area for news on how many doses were available. Some days she would hear rumors about the availability of doses in postponed counties and call health departments to ask. It was intense and tiring work.

“Vaccination dominated my life for a few weeks,” she says.

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As seniors begin to be offered COVID-19 vaccines, some families are finding that the onus of putting one in the arm of an elderly loved one falls entirely on them. On Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced that states should expand their immunization programs to more of their 65+ populations, going beyond initial guidelines that urged to prioritize healthcare providers and long-term care facilities and align more with the new Biden. administration vaccination plan.

But beyond simply prioritizing these groups, there has been no nationwide response specifically aimed at creating access for older people, and state-by-state programs vary with much of the cast. of vaccination at the county level.

Kathleen Cameron, senior director of the National Council on Aging’s Center for Healthy Aging, says her advice for people is to go directly to their local health departments to ask where to get vaccinated. However, she recognizes that this places a burden on the elderly, as well as their friends and family.

“It’s great for the elderly who have access to the internet and who are tech-savvy and they can do it, but there are so many seniors who live alone, they are housebound and we really care. those people who probably need the vaccine more than anyone else, ”Cameron says. Some community organizations, including aging councils, may offer assistance programs, such as in a county in North Carolina, where a organization provides transportation for the elderly.

Some Medicare programs, which recruit people over 65, as well as Medicaid, which recruit low-income populations, offer transportation programs, including for appointments for the flu shot. But as Denny Chan, senior attorney for Justice in Aging, points out: Even before COVID-19, these transportation programs were not robust or well coordinated. In fact, the Trump administration has decided to end Medicaid non-urgent transport program last year before Congress prevented him from doing so in a COVID-19 relief program. This relief program signed into law also required a study of fraud and abuse in the system and a greater focus on the effectiveness of the program.

“Even though it’s so important for everyone to get the vaccine, I think we’ll always see some of these loopholes in the system,” Chan said.

His organization says it has recommended mobile COVID-19 test sites to policymakers, which can be deployed for seniors confined to home or in low-income housing. While this could, in theory, result in a mobile vaccination unit, Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require special storage and temperature, making their practical use difficult.

Instead, people spend hours on the phone or online, refreshing online portals in hopes of landing a date for an elderly family member.

Suzy Berkowitz, 29, from Brooklyn, New York, managed to secure a date with her boss when the slots open to people over 75 by making an appointment on a government website. However, when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday that people over 65 could also make an appointment, Berkowitz tried to use the same website for his mother and aunt to no avail.

“I entered our zip code and looked at all the sites that were giving vaccines up to June, probably, and there weren’t any slots available,” she says. Berkowitz says she will continue to watch the dating web page to see if anything opens. A friend who knows a local doctor told him that when more vaccines became available, another time slot would open up.

“It’s been a lot of time and a lot of filtering through these government websites, what people recommended and what worked for most people. It was a lot more complicated than it should be, to be honest.” , says Berkowitz.

In New Orleans, a 29-year-old woman was able to get her 68-year-old father, a cancer survivor, vaccinated, but only after calling a chain of people.

Terri Pollock, who works in healthcare communications, says her father has not met the conditions in Louisiana for an early priority group, aimed at people 70 and older. But knowing that he was a bone marrow cancer survivor who had undergone a stem cell transplant, she wanted to get him vaccinated as quickly as possible.

She first turned to the Ochsner healthcare system, one of the largest in New Orleans, after hearing from a doctor friend that some doctors may authorize a vaccine for a patient in need. Pollock asked his father to contact his oncologist who said he was unaware of his ability to do so. His father then asked his primary care doctor who also said he did not have the capacity to authorize a dose.

Pollock’s father then contacted his doctors at the Mayo Clinic, where he had received his stem cell transplant, but since they have no influence in Louisiana, they couldn’t help him either. Finally, Pollock heard that there were doctors at a suburban New Orleans hospital who might authorize a vaccine for his father. She made an appointment for him with a primary care doctor who cleared a vaccine and on Wednesday afternoon he received his first dose with a second scheduled for next month.

While a relief for Pollock, the experience left her with concerns about how other high-risk populations might gain access to the vaccines and not sure who might be included in the next phased vaccine rollout. .

“Much of Louisiana is underserved and at high risk because it doesn’t have good access to health care… I still don’t know exactly what’s going to happen,” she says.

There are also equity issues. In Washington, DC, for example, appointments for the 65+ populations to get vaccinated were quickly broken, that a medical director of a community health center, Randi Abramson, attributed to white residents who are tech-savvy and have better internet access. “It’s mostly a white crowd from the northwest,” she told the Washington Post. “It’s them who use the Internet, and it’s them or their kids, and it’s their kids who bring them.” Meanwhile, advocates in a part of town where many black older people live say few older people have been able to find dates.

Additionally, having to bring an elderly person to a place to be vaccinated, Chan worries, may mean “that homebound elderly, homebound elderly, low-income people living in rural communities will simply not have the same access. And unfortunately, they’re just as high a risk as the population that most states have prioritized in their own phase one, ”he says.

Cameron also calls it a question of fairness.

“How do we make sure that African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans have, you know, a trusted resource they can go to to sign up for the vaccine?” she asks. She hopes community-level providers and federal programs, such as the Indian Health Service or community health centers, have stepped in to educate patients on how to get vaccinated.

“Unfortunately, yes, these are the ones who are able to keep up to date with what’s going on in their local community. These are more well connected. They are coming to the top of the line,” she said.

Back in Chattanooga, Chadwell finally learned of a postponed rural county that had 400 doses, after seeing a post on a Fire Department Facebook page. She knew she didn’t have much time; she called her parents and told them to start driving.

The trip lasted an hour and his parents ended up waiting around three hours in their car, passing the time by calling Chadwell to complain and joking about the people and cars around them. But, in the end, both received a vaccine.

It was a relief, but the battle isn’t over yet: Chadwell must now get his parents back in time for their second dose. She is thankful that Tennessee now has Online registration, but anticipates that she may have to go through the same intense process again. His takeaway from the experience?

“The reason the queues are so long is that there aren’t enough vaccines and there aren’t enough people working in the local health departments to get the vaccines quickly. We have to spend a lot of money on these programs, ”she said. .

“I am tired of this pandemic and I am ready for the vaccination to be generalized.”

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