(TNS) — Eighty-six-year-old JoAnne Hoodmaker considers herself lucky she was able to get a COVID-19 vaccine. While she has an appointment scheduled for the second shot in mid-February, she said some of her friends her age are still trying to get their first appointment.
“You can’t reach these places, except if you do it on the computer online, and most of my friends do not have computers or iPads or any of that,” said Hoodmaker, of Hanover Township, Northampton County, Pa. “So you know, it kind of restricts us and I think it’s discrimination.”
Though people 65 and older are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine, some in this group have found the process of getting an appointment or traveling to an appointment to be challenging and disorienting. Chrysan Cronin, director and assistant professor of public health at Muhlenberg College, said this is not just an inconvenience, it’s a public health concern. “It seems like our most vulnerable populations are the ones that have the least access to being able to schedule an appointment,” Cronin said.
She said that for some the trouble is a lack of technological know-how or lack of access to computers or smartphones. Both Lehigh Valley Health Network and St. Luke’s University Health Network have advertised their respective apps as the best way to sign up for a vaccine appointment, and the Allentown Health Bureau only allows vaccine appointments through an online survey. “I can’t even imagine trying to do this if I was not tech-savvy,” Cronin said.
Some seniors are lucky enough to get assistance though. Bill Clark, of Bethlehem Township, said his 97-year-old mother would not have been able to get a vaccine appointment without his help. She doesn’t have a computer, email or cellphone. But St. Luke’s MyChart app required all these.
The apps are not the only way to get vaccines though. Both LVHN and St. Luke’s have phone lines dedicated to vaccine appointments. St. Luke’s spokesperson Sam Kennedy said seniors can call, leave a number, and someone will return the call within a day.
While some have had success with these lines, like Hoodmaker, others haven’t had the same luck. Hoodmaker said some of her friends are still trying.
“I gave them the phone number, but they call and call and call all the time and they can’t get through,” Hoodmaker said. “It’s either the line is busy, or it just doesn’t ring at all. I mean, it’s really hard for people who don’t know how to go about getting this vaccine.”
LVHN spokesperson Brian Downs said there is not enough vaccine for everyone who wants it and is eligible to receive it right now.
“We do understand the challenges many are facing trying to get a vaccine appointment,” Downs said. “At the same time, despite technology or telephone or travel issues, without additional vaccine, it’s simply not possible to vaccinate everyone who wants it right now.”
Cronin said for some seniors the issue isn’t getting an appointment but getting to the locations where vaccines are distributed. She said drive-thru clinics may be effective ways of vaccinating large numbers of people, but for the many seniors who no longer drive or who no longer have vehicles, these clinics are not sensible.
Vicky Kistler, the Allentown Health Bureau’s director, said she is aware of seniors in the community facing difficulty with technology and difficulty traveling, and is planning to address them as soon as she can. She said seniors will be able to sign up for these clinics via a telephone line manned by human operators who speak English and Spanish. However, she said right now vaccine doses are still very limited and until the health bureau has a large enough stockpile it won’t be able to hold these senior-only clinics.
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