Seniors are Facing Barriers Trying to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine. What to Do.

COVID vaccineJanet needs to get the coronavirus vaccine. She is 74 and has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She leaves the house rarely, only to pick up her medicines in the pharmacy drive-thru. She has caregivers coming in to help her that may have been exposed to coronavirus themselves, so between that and her COPD, she won’t feel safe until she is vaccinated.
Janet asked her pulmonary doctor about the vaccine, but they’re not giving shots directly. She is concerned about going out and getting the COVID vaccine elsewhere, and taking a chance at getting exposed. And even if she could do so, she is having trouble figuring out how to sign up to even get one and heard that there are long waits and shortages for those who do.
When the Most Vulnerable Need to Get Vaccinated, But Can’t
Seniors similar to Janet in our example are among a population that needs to get vaccinated the most. Although they are not able to get out of their homes generally, they are still coming into contact with people who might be at risk of infecting them with COVID who provide care for them and bring/make them meals. Why has it been so difficult for seniors to get vaccinated?
Barriers Faced by Seniors Trying to get the COVID-19 Vaccine
As many of us who have tried to get a COVID vaccine know, demand is growing for the limited supply of vaccines available. This is only one of the barriers seniors are facing in trying to get the COVID vaccine. These are some other barriers:
– Not Enough Information: A Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) poll conducted between January 11 and 18 among 1,563 adults found that the majority of participants are confused about the process. Among adults 65 and over—a group that has higher priority for the vaccine—about 60% say they do not have enough information about when (58%) and where (59%) they will be able to get the vaccine.
Lack of Tech Savvy: Some seniors have been locked out thanks to a lack of access to and familiarity with smartphones, computers, and web-based appointment signups. The problem has worsened as states have opened shots to people 65 and older, putting the oldest in competition for rapidly disappearing slots with seniors who are more computer-savvy and mobile.
– Phone lines have also been jammed making things especially difficult for seniors not able to navigate the online scheduling system. With hotlines being low on staff, a vaccine-seeker can sometimes spend hours on the phone — or they’ll have to wait days to get a call back to schedule an appointment.
– Some people are uncomfortable sharing health information online: Some seniors are struggling because they don’t feel comfortable putting personal health information into internet computer systems.
– Transportation is a major barrier for some seniors trying to get vaccinated. This is why the vast majority of homebound seniors have not yet received vaccinations. Some of these patients will be best served when the vaccine is available to be brought to them.
– The vaccine refrigeration requirements make mobile vaccinations more difficult. At-home vaccinations to will hopefully become more of a possibility when this issue is remedied, the supply of vaccines increases, and it becomes easier to transport.
– No loved ones nearby: Seniors with family members or friends to help them are getting vaccine appointments, even if it takes days to secure them. Many of those without reliable social supports are missing out.
– Not Enough Vaccinations Available in the DC Metro area: Health officials across the DC area are dealing with scarce vaccine supplies. Local governments in Northern Virginia reported last week that they have received only a fraction of the doses they need for those in eligible groups. In Prince William County, for instance, officials said the health department has stopped scheduling new vaccine appointments until Feb. 15 because of the shortfall.
In Fairfax County, Virginia’s largest jurisdiction, about 100,000 people have registered for vaccines through the local health department, officials said. “That number doubled after the county expanded its eligibility requirements to people 65 and older and people with high-risk conditions,” county spokesman Jeremy Lasich said. “It will take anywhere from weeks to months for people on that list to get their appointments,” he said.
Montgomery Health Officer Travis Gayles said the county hasn’t been able to expand eligibility for vaccine appointments because it has already administered 95 percent of its vaccine. “The county does not want to schedule appointments months into the future,” Gayles said, adding that he worries that a “first-come, first-served” system would disadvantage low-income or marginalized residents who might be less able to navigate online registration.
Get Help from Friends and Loved Ones, If You Can
Seniors need someone — an adult child, a grandchild, or an advocate — who can help them engage with the health care system and get these vaccines,” said Dr. Preeti Malani, director of the University of Michigan’s National Poll on Healthy Aging.
Volunteer organizations have become crucial to helping those who are eligible but confused about getting vaccinated signed up for an appointment. For example, The Edlavitch JCC in Washington, DC, which serves a diverse population in its neighborhood near the White House, partnered with college students at George Washington University to help seniors sign up for vaccine appointments. To register for this program, click here.
Registering for a COVID-19 Vaccine
For information about COVID vaccine registration, visit:
Washington, D.C. Vaccination Registration
Montgomery County COVID-19 Information Portal
Fairfax County
City of Alexandria COVID Vaccine Resources
Arlington COVID-19 Response
For more details on resources in our area to help with registering for a vaccine, please contact your local Area Agency on Aging. The list can be found on the Eldercare Locator here.
For more details on this topic, please read our recent Critter Corner article on the subject here.
For Peace of Mind, Plan Today!
Hopefully, anyone who chooses to be will be vaccinated soon and these barriers will cease to exist.
To protect yourself and your loved ones, it is always prudent to plan in advance! With advance planning, you can retain the assets it has taken you a lifetime to accumulate, and provide yourself the peace of mind knowing that you’re prepared and protected should something happen to you. When you’re ready to plan, contact us for an initial consultation:
Elder Care Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Elder Care Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Elder Care Rockville: 301-519-8041
Elder Care DC: 202-587-2797
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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.