Online system prevents thousands of seniors from accessing COVID vaccine

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Thousands of older people may not receive the potentially life-saving COVID-19 vaccine as soon as expected, as local health departments are forcing those who wish to make an appointment to request it online.

The move leaves seniors who don’t have access to technology or aren’t comfortable with technology unable to get one of the already hard-to-find and coveted places to get vaccinated.

Both Sarasota and Manatee County Health Departments have created appointment systems where people have to go online to register for a place online, then download and print the forms they will need. .

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It is an almost impossible task for thousands of elderly people who do not have computers, smartphones or printers or, when they do, are not skilled enough to quickly find one of the few places. available.

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Nicholas Azzara, a spokesperson for Manatee County, said Thursday that the county had only received 3,500 doses of the vaccine. Officials therefore decided to “distribute the initial batch as efficiently as possible,” believing that “a quick and efficient presentation from the start” would mean the county would get more vaccines, he said.

A spokesperson for the Sarasota County Department of Health did not respond to an email request for comment on the story. His mailbox was full.

Jeff Johnson, Florida state director for AARP, said the organization was monitoring the rollout of the vaccine statewide.

He called the pandemic a “disaster” in Florida and said his group was working with state officials to make sure older people know when, how and where to access the vaccine.

“AARP Florida believes state and local governments should be transparent about their vaccine distribution plans and keep the American public informed,” he said in an emailed statement.

The local vaccine rollout highlights an issue that has been made worse by the pandemic as more and more of daily life has changed online.

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While this change is seen as positive, giving people the ability to work and communicate remotely and alleviating issues like isolation, the elderly who have been hit hardest by the pandemic have, in large part, been left behind, according to experts.

A November study in the journal Frontiers in Psychology said “the result is a paradoxical situation, in which the population most affected by confinement is also the population least helped by digital tools aimed at mitigating the negative effects.”

Forcing older people, who are most vulnerable to the pandemic, to go online to access a potentially life-saving vaccine is one example. The people who need the vaccine most are probably the least able to access it.

Lisa Merritt, executive director of the Multicultural Health Institute in Sarasota, said the situation is even more difficult for seniors who do not speak English.

She said that in addition to the issues other seniors face, non-English speakers face “all kinds of issues and fears” as they try to get answers and research the vaccine.

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“The technological divide, transportation issues, literacy and English issues, mistrust of government and mixed messages,” she said, go hand in hand with a “concern to try. to cope with current psychosocial problems and complex chronic health problems “.

Azzara said plans are underway to make sure people without internet access know what’s going on with vaccines and how to get them when more doses become available.

“Once this plan is fully established,” he said, “we will work with our division of aging services and local partners who serve older people to spread the news and ensure that these people are vaccinated if they are. wish to be vaccinated. ”

He expects the process to work the same as the County Hurricane Emergency System, where emergency management works closely with Aging Services to ensure people are informed of urgent information.

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For seniors who are looking for a date but do not have access or cannot work on the internet, there are resources available that will help them navigate the system.

Renee DiPilato, director of libraries and historical resources for Sarasota County, said seniors who need help can visit any branch to use computers to make appointments and print forms. .

For people who are not comfortable with computers, “the staff will be on hand to help those in need,” she said.

And in Manatee, Tracie A. Adams, social services program manager for the county’s Neighborhood Services Department, said the elderly helpline has seen an increase in the number of calls it has received since. that the vaccine has become available.

She said her staff had attempted to register those who couldn’t do it themselves and had a list of people to call when more doses became available on Monday.

“I’m only saying try to sign up because we’re going to go through the process the same as anyone else trying to sign up for a date and we don’t know how quickly they will fill up,” he said. she declared.

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Azzara, the county spokesperson, said the Manatee 311 call center can help Spanish and English speakers fill out forms and make appointments. The Ministry of Health is also available.

“The message we are emphasizing is that of patience,” he said.

“We understand the urgency for several thousand people who want to be vaccinated. Many people who have not been able to make an appointment for this first round of vaccinations will be able to find an appointment and a vaccine in the coming weeks.

This story comes from Aspirations Journalism, an initiative of the Patterson Foundation and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune to inform, inspire and engage the community to take action on issues related to digital access.


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