by Patty niberg And Suman Nashdham, The Associated Press
Denver – Howard Jones, who was 83 years old, spent three to four hours every day on the phone trying to sign up for a coronovirus vaccine.
Jones, who lives alone in Colorado Springs, does not have internet, and it is very difficult for him to make an appointment. It took him about a week. He said that this confusion could lead to a fatal disease at his age.
“It’s been hell,” Jones said. “I’m 83 and not using a computer is terrible.”
As people across America roll the COVID-19 vaccine to people 65 and older, seniors are scrambling to figure out how to sign up to get their shots. Many states and counties have asked people to make appointments online, but a rash of messed up websites, overwhelmed phone lines and rapidly changing regulations are troubling older people, who are often low-tech, much from vaccination sites. Can stay away and is more likely not to have Internet access for everyone, especially people of color and those who are poor.
According to US Census Bureau data, about 9.5 million seniors or US adults 65 and older have 16.5% internet deficiencies. Access is worse for seniors of color: more than 25% of black people, about 21% of Hispanic people, and more than 28% of Native Americans 65 and older have no way of getting online. This is compared to 15.5% of white seniors.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, Drs. Rebecca Parish has been cut off from the bureaucratic process and calls for help from superiors continue. One of his patients, who is 83 years old, called him in tears, unable to navigate the online appointment system at Right Aid. A 92-year-old woman phoned him before the beginning of this week after reading about him in a newspaper, telling him, “I’ll do anything to get this vaccine.”
So the parish took things into its own hands. She arrived in Contra Costa County and acquired 500 doses to vaccinate people this weekend at a middle school in Lafayette, California. She is working with nonprofits that identify seniors who do not live in nursing homes and are at risk of cracks. All his appointments have been claimed, but he will start taking them again once more doses are available.
Some health officials are trying to find other solutions to reduce confusion and help seniors sign up, as the Trump administration reported this week to states that the nation’s 54 million seniors qualified for the COVID-19 vaccine Was urged to make.
Simple ideas have found work in some places. In Morgantown, West Virginia, county health officials used a large road construction sign to list seniors’ phone numbers to call for an appointment. Others are considering partnering with community groups or setting up mobile clinics for hard-to-reach populations.
Some seniors will be waiting to hear from their doctor. Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers, said there are limits to accessing people using healthcare systems, pharmacies or primary care providers who do not have internet.
He said the two coronavirus vaccines available in the US and their cold temperature requirements “do not lend themselves to being sent to rural areas.”
In McComb, Mississippi, where 77.5% of residents are Black and nearly half the population lives below the poverty line, 71-year-old Mary Christian took an online appointment with the help of her son. But the only available sites are at least an hour away from his life.
“I am 71 years old, and my children are not going to be happy driving 200 miles from (100) to get me vaccinated,” said Christian, who has diabetes.
Some medical systems, such as UCHealth in Colorado, like senior citizens, are trying to partner with community groups to vaccinate people with less population.
The Chief Medical Officer of UCHealth University at Colorado Hospital, Drs. Gene Kutner said he is volunteering at a clinic organized by a church that brings in vaccines and helps build trust between health care workers and residents.
For now, UCHealth schedules appointments online, but Kutner said the COVID-19 hotline works because of the amount of calls from seniors.
“Seniors are comfortable with things, so it’s not really a technical obstacle for them,” said Gretchen Garofoli, Associate Professor at West Virginia University’s School of Pharmacy.
But even a Colorado health provider setting up vaccine clinics for untouched communities, the Salud Family Health Center, said their phone lines cannot handle the volume of calls they are receiving and people. To go online.
When calling for an appointment is an option, finding the number is often possible online.
The same problem was for 83-year-old Jones in Colorado. A retired service member, he considered reaching Veterans Affairs but could not find a phone number.
He sought help from a friend, who gave him several numbers. One led Angela Cortez, head of communications for AARP in Colorado.
Cortez said Jones has been flooded with AARP by calls from seniors who do not have internet and need help navigating the websites of the health department, care providers and vaccine sign-up forms.
“It’s not like you can show up anywhere and get vaccinated,” Cortez said. “And if you don’t have access to a computer, you’re at a loss.”
Even Cortez had trouble as he tried to help Jones. After Jones’ friends were vaccinated there, she called the numbers listed on the Colorado Health Department website and several Safeway stores.
Eventually, Cortez was asked to sign up online.
“I am an employee of AARP, one; And two, I’m the Director of Communications – I’m a trained journalist – and I have a computer, three, and I can’t get through anyone, “she said.
A friend finally managed to get Jones’ appointment on Saturday. But he was disappointed that he had to “go through the side channels” instead of doing it himself.
Associated Press reporter Jenny Hara in San Francisco and data journalist Larry Fenn in New York contributed to this report.
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