In the United States, more than eight in 10 COVID-19 deaths have occurred among those of us aged 65 or above.
This sobering statistic sheds light on just how devastating this pandemic has been for older Americans, and far too many have lost loved ones to this disease.
Thankfully, a post-COVID-19 world is coming into view in the distance. Americans now have access to three safe and extremely effective vaccines, and reports show that cases are declining among nursing home staff and residents.
These medical breakthroughs — which are available for free — could very well spell the difference between life and death for many, which is precisely why the CDC recommends that states prioritize older Americans in their vaccine distribution plans.
Most states have heeded this advice and placed seniors at the front of the line.
Unfortunately, though, many older Americans have reported difficulty accessing vaccines. Online scheduling systems are often difficult to navigate, making them inaccessible to the 22 million seniors who lack in-home internet. Many others have struggled to secure rides to distribution sites, and even in Massachusetts, where companion vaccination guidelines were granted, challenges still exist.
But with persistence — and a little help — there is no reason why every eligible American senior shouldn’t get their vaccine in the next few months.
Here are five tips to secure a timely COVID-19 vaccine appointment and obtain full vaccination for yourself or an older loved one:
• Ask for help: Remember that you don’t have to go it alone. Reach out to friends, family, and neighbors for assistance. Many senior centers and local places of worship stand ready to help. If you have specific transportation concerns, plan ahead and ask if someone will give you a ride.
• Research your state’s distribution plan: Each state has issued its own guidance for vaccine distribution. Visit www.CDC.gov to learn more about the rollout plan in your area.
• Sign up for appointment alerts: Many state and local governments have automated systems that will alert you when you are eligible and where they are available.
• Call your doctor: Many clinics, pharmacies, health systems, and community health centers administer — or plan to administer — vaccines. Ask your doctor if they currently offer vaccine appointments and, if so, request notification when one becomes available. Be sure to check with all your doctors, especially if they are in different health systems.
• Be persistent: Remember that you might not secure an appointment on your first attempt. That’s OK. Go in with the right mindset and the expectation that you (or your loved one who is helping schedule the appointment) might have to try a few times before successfully booking one.
At times, landing a vaccine appointment might feel impossible. But with a determined attitude, a bit of preparation, dogged persistence, increasing supply, and some help from those in your circle, what feels impossible can be accomplished.
James C. Appleby, BSPharm, MPH, ScD (Hon) is chief executive officer of the Gerontological Society of America.