With states across the U.S. providing the COVID-19 vaccine to people 65 and older, seniors are trying to determine how to make an appointment to receive their shots. Many government agencies ask people to make appointments online. However, website errors, overwhelmed phone lines and a collection of changing rules are frustrating seniors who are frequently less tech-savvy, may live farther from vaccination sites and are less likely to have Internet access—especially minority populations and the poor.
ABC News’ recent article entitled “Online sign-ups complicate vaccine rollout for older people” reports that almost 9.5 million seniors (16.5% of Americans 65 and older) lack internet access, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Moreover, the access is worse for minority seniors, with more than 25% of Black people, about 21% of Hispanic people and over 28% of Native Americans age 65 and older have no way to get online. Compare that with 15.5% of white seniors.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, Dr. Rebecca Parish has been saddened by the bureaucratic red tape and continued calls for help from seniors. An 83-year-old patient called her in tears, unable to navigate the online appointment system at her local drugstore. After several of these types of calls, Dr. Parish took action. She contacted Contra Costa County and acquired 500 doses to vaccinate people at a middle school in Lafayette, California. She’s also working with nonprofits to identify seniors who don’t live in nursing homes and risk falling through the cracks. All her appointments have been taken, but she’ll begin adding more when more doses are available.
Many health officials have been trying to find other solutions to ease the confusion and help senior citizens sign up, as the Trump administration asked states to make the nation’s 57.6 million seniors eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Some spots have discovered that simple ideas can work. For example, in Morgantown, West Virginia, county health officials used a large road construction sign to list the phone number for seniors to call to make an appointment. Some are looking at working with community groups or setting up mobile clinics for more remote populations.
Some medical systems, like UCHealth in Colorado, are trying to partner with community groups to get vaccines to underserved populations, like seniors. Local doctors are volunteering at a clinic hosted by a church that brings in the vaccine and helps build trust between health care workers and residents.
For now, UCHealth schedules appointments online, but a COVID-19 hotline is in the works because of the volume of calls from seniors. Howwever, even a Colorado health provider setting up vaccine clinics for underserved communities, Salud Family Health Centers, said their phone lines aren’t equipped to handle the number of calls they’re getting and encouraged people to go online.