A week and a half ago, as I wandered up and down the line of vehicles at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in the Hermiston High School parking lot, a driver exiting the line rolled down his window and waved me over.
He is 84 and has diabetes, he explained, and he thought he surely would qualify for a vaccine at that morning’s clinic. Instead, screeners told him he would need to find a clinic sometime after Monday, Feb. 8, when Oregonians over age 80 would become eligible. He wasn’t the only person I saw turned away that day.
The good news is that he is now eligible for the vaccine, and other age categories of senior citizens will soon follow. After Oregon got the news last week that the federal government was boosting its weekly shipments to Oregon, the state now expects to be able to vaccinate all seniors who want the shot by the beginning of May, a month sooner than expected.
What concerns me is how seniors who want to be vaccinated will find the opportunity to do so. For health care workers and educators, county health departments were able to work with employers to get the word out about clinics, or bring vaccines directly to worksites. Umatilla County Public Health’s vaccine section of its website states that, “If you are eligible to be vaccinated for COVID-19 during Phase 1A or 1B, you will be notified by your employer.”
Most people over age 65 don’t have an employer.
The other advice I have seen frequently is to watch various social media pages and websites for announcements. Again, this presents a problem for a large portion of our more elderly members of our community, who either don’t have internet/computer access, aren’t on Facebook or struggle with being technologically savvy enough to find all the proper information or sign up for email alerts.
Last Friday, Feb. 5, for example, Umatilla County announced on Facebook that 400 doses of the vaccine would be available for people age 80 and up through appointments that could be booked starting at 8 a.m. on Feb. 8. By 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 8, all appointments were already filled — without seniors who get their information solely from the Hermiston Herald’s print edition each Wednesday being able to find out about the opportunity.
Even for seniors who are tech-savvy, I worry about the fact that I, who does this sort of thing for a living, have often had difficulty locating the information I’m looking for during the pandemic.
Oregon Health Authority has a “vaccine event” calendar, for example, but to find it you have to visit OHA’s website, click on the “Visit our COVID-19 website” link, click on the “COVID-19 vaccines” tab, find the “View vaccine information by county” button halfway down the page, click on the button and scroll to the bottom of that page. And then the calendar only seems to feature a handful of events from the west side of the state. The website also changes constantly, so the description I give here might not even be accurate anymore by the time you read this.
I know this is a difficult, chaotic time and people and organizations are making good faith efforts to handle all of this. I know because despite our best efforts, the sporadically announced, constantly changing flow of information makes it extremely difficult for the newspaper — a vital source of information for seniors — to keep people up to date. What is true one afternoon is often not true by the next morning.
I promise the Hermiston Herald and East Oregonian newsrooms will continue to do our best to get information out and questions institutions about ways they could do better.
It seems, however, one of the best things people can do right now is to “adopt” a senior or two, so to speak. Check on your parents, grandparents, neighbors and friends over the age of 65 and ask if they would like your help tracking vaccine information and working to get them an appointment. Such efforts will help get vulnerable people vaccinated as quickly as possible and keep doses of the vaccine flowing to our communities.
As a society, we have asked our elders to sacrifice so much during the pandemic, and they have been hit harder than anyone else in terms of hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19. We need to make it our mission to protect them now, when we have the chance.