Slow Websites and Stalled Phone Lines: The Hurdles for Older Adults Getting a COVID Vaccine

Illustrated by Alexandra Laufer

The United States started administering COVID-19 vaccines in Dec. 2020 [1]. When the vaccines became available, the country was faced with the decision of who should be vaccinated first. The Center for Disease and Control (CDC) provided guidelines of groups to be vaccinated in a specific order [2]. Per these suggestions, the people who should receive the vaccine first are healthcare personnel and long-term care facility residents (in group 1a). The next group that the CDC recommends to get vaccinated are people aged 75 years and older, as they are at the highest risk of hospitalization from COVID. 

Vaccinating healthcare workers happened fairly smoothly in the US, but it has been difficult for some older adults to secure a COVID vaccine. One of the problems is that it is simply hard for them to find appointments. They have to navigate buggy websites that are fairly complicated, especially to those who are not very familiar with technology. NPR featured an article with many accounts of older adults and their struggles with finding a vaccine appointment [6]. One older adult revealed that she luckily was able to get a vaccine from a town pharmacy, but she knows many others who gave up trying to look because they were frustrated. From a different news source, the story of a 78-year-old with chronic lung disease shared her troubles of finding a COVID vaccine. She successfully navigated through a website and provided her email and phone number with no response. Then, she called the doctor’s office, which urged her to wait [3]. She did not receive any other information to secure a vaccine appointment. These are only a few examples of older adults’ struggles with finding a COVID vaccine appointment. 

Fortunately, there have been some grassroots movements that are helping older adults find appointments. In Albuquerque, the local fire department held a workshop with other local workers to help older adults secure vaccine appointments [5]. A software developer named Huge Ma discovered how difficult it was to find a COVID vaccine appointment when he tried to schedule one for his mother. He decided to build a free website, TurboVax, that compiles information about appointments from multiple websites and makes it easier for people to find available COVID vaccines in New York [4]. While it was nice to see people helping out in their community, the government seemed poorly prepared for orderly vaccine distribution. Hopefully, in the future, the United States government will be more prepared to protect those most at risk without having to rely on the actions of a few individuals. 

Edited by: Frank Lin
Illustrated by: Alexandra Laufer

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