Many seniors are energetic and tech-savvy. Both of those qualities may be necessary to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccination. Unfortunately, seniors who do not have the stamina or skills to navigate online resources may be left behind.
Supplies of COVID-19 vaccines are increasing, but distribution continues to be challenging. Shipping the refrigerated doses, supplying hundreds of millions of hypodermic needles, and finding the personnel to organize appointments and administer the vaccinations is a logistical nightmare.
Since the vaccine rollout will take some time, states are generally prioritizing vulnerable populations, including senior citizens. The age at which seniors are prioritized varies from state to state, and sometimes from county to county.
Health agencies may deliver the vaccines to seniors who reside in nursing homes and other adult-care facilities, but seniors who live independently will generally need to arrange their own vaccinations. Seniors who are able to drive may find themselves waiting for hours as cars line up for drive-through vaccinations. Sitting in a car for that length of time simply isn’t possible for some seniors.
Where and how to arrange a vaccination may depend on where a senior resides. AARP has a state-by-state guide to obtaining COVID-19 vaccinations that it updates daily. The guide is a useful means of navigating the confusing differences in state approaches to vaccine distribution.
In some places, the demand for vaccinations has exceeded the ability of the healthcare system to schedule appointments and answer questions. AARP reports that “sign-up websites have crashed under the weight of tremendous traffic, and health department phone lines have been overwhelmed.” Since two doses of the currently approved vaccines are required to assure their effectiveness, seniors will need to go through the sign-up ordeal twice.
When scheduling sites manage to stay online, appointment times fill up quickly. A 92-year-old woman in Washington, D.C. told NPR that she was “much too slow” as she tried to navigate the site and schedule an appointment. “”It’s terribly competitive and clearly favors those with advanced computer skills,” she said.
NPR reports that finding information about vaccinations and scheduling an appointment has become so burdensome that many seniors have stopped trying. The woman in D.C. abandoned her effort to schedule an online appointment but was able to find information on a neighborhood discussion board that directed her to a local hospital.
Seniors who are not native speakers of English may have difficulty scheduling an appointment by telephone. However, constant busy signals test the patience of callers who may decide to give up and await a time when demand for vaccinations has lessened.
Waiting may be a bad idea for seniors who have diabetes, heart problems, or other health conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Waiting may also make the problem worse, as seniors will be competing against a larger population when people become eligible for vaccinations who are not currently prioritized.
Seniors with tech-savvy relatives may be able to ask for a technical assist in their effort to sign up for vaccinations. A call to a personal physician may also help seniors cut through the red tape. Local pharmacies are another good source of information.
Local health departments often have the most up-to-date information about the best way for seniors to obtain vaccinations. Some aging councils and other community organizations are offering information and assistance, including transportation for seniors who are homebound. The Eldercare Locator is a good starting place to find contact information for local agencies that can answer vaccination inquiries.