Elderly Texans are among the most vulnerable in our state to COVID-19 and stand to benefit the most from receiving a vaccine for the pandemic disease. But the way we’ve gone about administering those vaccines is leaving many of them behind.
First, let’s acknowledge that Texas prioritized residents 65 years and older as part of phase 1B of its vaccination plan. That’s important because eight out of 10 deaths associated with COVID-19 have been in that age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Someone in their late 80s is more than 500 times more likely to die of COVID-19 if they catch it than someone in their 20s. But the three vaccines now available in the U.S. have shown a basically perfect track record of preventing death from the disease -- so giving it to our most vulnerable people is a no-brainer.
Let’s also acknowledge that some areas have done an excellent job of streamlining processes at vaccine administration sites.
Palo Pinto County, home of a little over 29,000, has more than 1,600 who are now fully vaccinated, and 4,200 have received at least one dose. Parker County, population about 142,800, has fully vaccinated more than 14,000 as a rural vaccination hub — more than 24,000 have received their first dose.
Those are pretty impressive for a rural county. Those who have received the vaccine said while there were some kinks in getting signed up, the administration process was smooth, quick and efficient.
So what’s the catch? It’s this: Many of our most elderly neighbors, including some subscribers to this newspaper, still face massive obstacles to obtaining a vaccine — not least of which is internet access.
Elderly county residents without internet lack the ability to complete the step of registering online for their vaccine, whether they have chosen to go without internet access or simply live somewhere where high-speed internet not available. Numerous other counties have established similar waiting lists with few offering a phone number as an alternative. The solution put forward by some officials is, ask your children to help you. Sometimes that’s easier said than done.
And internet access may not be enough. Sure, the local libraries may offer public computers, but some elderly cannot drive and may have difficulty obtaining a ride to the library, let alone scheduling a computer slot or using it to access the online portal once they’re there.
Even those who may have rudimentary internet access at home — enough, say, to send and receive emails — may not be comfortable navigating the online form to sign up for the waiting list. Put it this way: For some, finding and filling out a form like that may be as strange and confusing to them as using TikTok or Snapchat would be to you.
Effectively, we’re requiring many elderly residents to use technology they’ve never had to bother with, and may not even have access to, to obtain lifesaving medicine.
Would we force someone who’s diabetic to figure out an online form to get their insulin?
Would we make an organ transplant recipient suddenly have to learn to use the internet to obtain anti-rejection medications?
But what we’re asking of very elderly residents is not much different.
Municipalities across the nation are set to receive thousands, even millions, of dollars in stimulus funding shortly. We suggest that some of that be used to remove these obstacles preventing very elderly residents from accessing COVID-19 vaccines.
Set up a phone bank. Establish a computer lab with assistants available to walk elderly residents through the online form. Hire temporary workers to go door-to-door in communities with large elderly populations. Consider forming a mobile vaccine clinic to make house calls for shut-in residents. We have the funding — we should put it to good use.
Let’s do whatever it takes to protect our most vulnerable.