One week ago, Illinois entered Phase 1B of its COVID-19 vaccine rollout, which includes people ages 65 and older. But signing up to get the vaccine can be complicated — especially for older adults.
Some don’t know how to access online portals. Others don’t have someone they can trust to help them with the technology. And then there are those who lack access to a smartphone or laptop.
“Rollout has been a struggle for seniors,” said Dr. Lee Lindquist, chief of geriatrics at Northwestern Medicine. “I think it’s been a huge effort, but we’re still missing a lot of people.”
The coronavirus pandemic and the vaccine rollout has highlighted a digital divide that has long existed, Lindquist said. Because technology is generally not developed by seniors but by younger generations, it’s can be unfriendly — from a user perspective — for older adults. That includes navigating online patient portals and using some unfamiliar features of their phones.
“My thought process through all of this is that our world has not really been built to include seniors,” Lindquist said.
In addition to the technology divide, Lindquist said older people who are homebound are particularly vulnerable to a lack of access to the vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine, for example, needs to be kept at extremely cold temperatures, making the transport to someone’s home difficult. Also, these populations routinely deal with health care workers, caregivers and others coming in and out of their homes, which puts them at an increased risk of contracting the virus.
When signing up for vaccines, Lindquist suggests registering with multiple websites to try and book an appointment. Those who are eligible can sign up through their primary care doctor, a hospital or federally qualified health center, pharmacies, local health departments and their workplace. Chicago residents can check the city’s vaccination finder.
“Put your name in as many hats as possible and see which lottery you win,” Lindquist said.