Leading Barriers to Accessing COVID-19 Vaccine Among Older Adults; Steps to Take Next
For the last year during the pandemic, I’ve had the privilege of serving in AmeriCorps as an Older Adult Coordinator at the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD), where majority of my service included connecting older adults to immunization services. Throughout my service year, I quickly learned some of the biggest challenges for getting older adults vaccinated included lack of internet access, computer literacy skills, transportation, and majority were homebound in which case their immune systems were too weak to leave the house at all. This left the patients whom were homebound feeling neglected, forgotten about, and hopeless for a brighter future ahead.
Without access to a vaccine, older adults were forced to stay isolated away from their friends and family for even longer, leading to increased rates of loneliness which is found to have long-term negative consequences such as higher rates of depression, anxiety, dementia, and suicide.
The Allegheny County Health Department was able to assist in reducing these health disparities and barriers by going directly into the senior high rises to vaccinate the older adults. This required a tremendous amount of planning, implementation, evaluation, as well as a lot of volunteer nurses and other volunteer staff.
Due to the efforts of volunteers, ACHD staff, senior high-rise building managers, and other partner organizations, about 94 percent of Allegheny County residents 65 and older are now vaccinated with at least one dose of the vaccine.
It’s obvious that no one was prepared for a world-wide pandemic to take a hit this hard, but what’s even more obvious is that no one was prepared for how detrimental it was going to be for older adults especially. There is a huge gap in technology skills between older adults and the younger generations and it’s necessary to bridge this gap as soon as possible. I can’t help but think how that would have helped so many older adults and their families during this last year. We’ve come a long way since December of 2019, but there is still a long road ahead for older adults. It’s going to take much more than a vaccine for them to recover from the last year and a half of social isolation. I am hopeful that as a community we can work together to create a better environment for seniors in the future that can include increased comfort with technology and online platforms, ongoing efforts to improve policies and programs for longer, and an increased interest to work on issues of aging society.