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Editor’s Note: Technology stands between some seniors and COVID-19 vaccine

Editor’s Note is a weekly column by News Director Josh Durso. It’s published weekly as part of the Sunday Insight newsletter. Want to become a subscriber? Click here.

There’s something really disheartening happening right now across the United States. It has to do with our senior population and COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Seniors 65-and-older are eligible for the vaccine in New York, as part of Phase 1B. Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the state would align its guidance with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Despite a number of warning signs over the last three weeks that vaccine availability would not come close to matching demand — there was a false sense of hope that at least the most-vulnerable populations would see vaccination sooner-than-later.

Over the last week stories have been making their way around social media, and even direct testimonials shared with our reporters. Stories about those who are part of 1B not being able to get vaccinated until March or April, or being stymied as technology stands between them and appointments.

The Associated Press featured a story about an 83-year-old who lives alone in Colorado Springs. He doesn’t have the internet, and that has made it more difficult for him to make an appointment to get vaccinated. All told, Howard Jones, had to spend three to four hours per day on the phone trying to sign-up for an appointment, and after a week he was successful. “It has been hell,” Jones told the AP. “I’m 83 and to not have the use of a computer is just terrible.”

He’s right. There isn’t really a good excuse for it, either. Throughout the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine we’ve heard a mixed bag of reports. First that dosages were going unused, or that the rollout was just happening too slowly — even among health care workers. Then in light of those issues and mounting public pressure, the field of eligibility was expanded.

All of that happened in a matter of one week. This week, we saw frustrated seniors take to social media to voice their concerns with the process. To make matters worse, local health departments had to spend a lionshare of their week swatting away phone calls as vaccine doses trickled in. 

The regional task force was clear: There aren’t enough doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to go around right now. That means people of all ages will simply have to be patient. 

But we are starting to see a pattern that could be viewed by some as a series of unkept promises. What do I mean? Is testing as rigorous or widely available as originally promised if you have to wait days to get an appointment, or if it costs hundreds of dollars to receive one? Is vaccine distribution truly equitable, if the state has a good plan, but supply cannot keep up? These are the questions that fuel doubt and leave the issue of intent up to debate. 

Back to our seniors, though. There are some safeguards in place to ensure our seniors get the vaccination. Whether that be primary care physicians, drug stores, or health departments stepping up to be the conduit between this population and the vaccine — it will need to be performed almost flawlessly. We cannot have seniors struggling with online sign-up forms, or waiting around for hours on the phone. And the evidence right now suggests that many seniors are hanging by the moment, waiting to find out when they can get the vaccine — even though they hear state officials say over-and-over that they are eligible.

Here’s where I’ll leave this column, though: We need to keep getting better everyday. And we need to believe that those leading the region, state, and federal government will continue getting better. For our part, we all need to be a little more patient — and lend a hand where we can. Let’s hope the problem that was reported on by the Associated Press, and stories like it that we’ve seen circulated on social media become a thing of pandemic history. And let’s be patient, even when it’s very difficult to do so. 

Categories: HealthNews