CLARKSDALE, Miss. (AP) – The first obstacle was to get on the bus. Linda Busby, seventy-four, hesitated in front of a community center where elderly people were taking care of getting vaccinated against the coronavirus.
“I was scared, I’m not scared to say that,” she said on Wednesday after getting the Johnson & Johnson shot after encouragement from a staff member and her brother. “I thought I wasn’t going to get it at first. No one likes to be vaccinated.
Busby’s reluctance is exactly what the Biden administration and its allies in the states are fighting, one person at a time, as the White House calls on the elderly to get vaccinated. The vaccination rate for this priority group is plateauing even as supplies have increased.
About 76% of Americans aged 65 and over have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine since authorization in December, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the rate of new vaccinations among the group most vulnerable to the adverse effects of the virus has slowed dramatically.
This is a growing cause for concern, not only because of the potential for preventable death and serious illness among the elderly in the coming months, but also for what it might portend for the general American population.
“I want to make a direct appeal to our seniors and all those who care about them,” President Joe Biden said on Tuesday, citing “incredible progress” but saying it is still not enough.
“It’s simple: Seniors, it’s time for you to get vaccinated now. Get vaccinated now. “
According to government estimates, about 12.9 million American seniors have not yet received their first injection. Even though they were the first priority age group for vaccines, more than 23% of those 75 and over have not yet been vaccinated.
Supply constraints initially slowed the pace of senior immunizations, but not for months for people in high priority age groups. Instead, officials say, the slowdown is caused by a mix of issues, from people having difficulty finding and getting to vaccination sites to reluctance to get vaccinated.
Closing the gap will require considering all barriers for older people, whether they are technological, transportation or personal reluctance, said Sandy Markwood, CEO of the National Association of Regional Agencies on aging, which has recognized that immunization rates among the elderly have leveled off somewhat. . “
It’s a potential harbinger of challenges ahead with other demographic groups. All adult Americans will become eligible for vaccination within the next two weeks, although the process of administering enough vaccines to begin to return to “normal” will take months longer. Many states, even as they open the doors to eligibility, still maintain priority immunization systems, or dedicated distribution channels, to keep older people who want the vaccine on the front line.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease specialist, has predicted that between 75% and 85% of the population may need to be vaccinated to achieve “herd immunity” and end the epidemic to United States.
This is one of the reasons the White House and states have decided to step up eldercare programs and public education campaigns.
Markwood credited the administration’s $ 1.9 trillion bailout for providing the necessary funding “to go out there and do this more intensive, sometimes one-on-one outreach” with the elderly, saying, “C t is this last mile, the last group that needs extra support. , it will take more time and radiation. “
Even more help is on the way.
Starting next week, the administration is launching a $ 100 million effort to fund community organizations providing “high intensity” support to at-risk seniors and people with disabilities through the Department of Health and Human Rights. Social services. This includes assistance with making appointments, traveling to vaccination sites and other aids throughout the vaccination process.
Similar programs are already underway at the state level.
In Clarksdale, Mississippi, the state held its first-ever mobile vaccinations for homebound seniors on Wednesday. That’s where a bus picked up Busby in front of a senior day care center and community center next to a low-rental housing complex for the elderly.
As Busby hesitated, a member of staff encouraged her to join the group waiting to board. She later said that one of the main motivators for her to get the shot was the support of her brother, who called her out to encourage her to get the shot.
“I’m going to call him as soon as I get home and let him know I’ve done it,” she said as she got on the bus back to the community center.
Older people are actually less hesitant than many. According to an AP-NORC poll at the end of March, 11% of Americans aged 65 and over say they probably will not or certainly not be vaccinated. This compares to 25% of all adults.
The White House has repeatedly indicated that family members and community leaders are the best validators to overcome hesitation. It is also working to create more vaccination sites closer to homes, recognizing that access issues span demographic groups. On Wednesday, the White House announced that all more than 1,400 federally qualified community health centers will be able to begin administering vaccines. It also aims to expand mobile vaccination clinics.
A disproportionate number of unvaccinated older people come from black or Latin communities, or those without easy access to health care, said Kathleen Cameron, senior director of the National Council on Aging’s Center for Healthy Aging, reflecting the disparities within the community. general population. And about 6% of seniors are homebound.
“These are the hardest people to reach, and they are the ones we have to work the hardest to get there, either to get them to the vaccination centers or to get them the vaccines,” she said.
Aurelia Jones-Taylor, CEO of the Aaron E. Henry, Inc.Community Health Services Center in Clarksdale, said family members are one of the main helpers – but sometimes barriers – to getting older people vaccinated. . Some encourage loved ones, help them get to clinics, and make sure they get vaccinated.
But in many cases, younger family members are misinformed about the vaccine and discourage older parents from receiving it. Other than that, older adults can be harder to reach because they aren’t social media savvy and live on their own.
“They’re stuck in the house and they’re scared,” Jones-Taylor said. “We have to overcome the fear.”
Seniors, depending on their age, are between 1,300 and 8,700 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than those aged 5-17, according to the CDC, and they account for more than 80% of the 559,000 deaths in the United States in due to the virus.
A major help in Mississippi – especially among older adults – is encouragement from pastors and religious communities, Jones-Taylor said.
“It’s essential,” she said. “This is what they listen to.”
Julia Ford, 71, spends most of her days at the Reverend SLA Jones Activity Center. She said her faith was a major motivator for her to receive the vaccine.
“I wasn’t sure what I would do – ‘Am I going to get it or not?’ I spoke to the Lord to make it clear to me, ”said Ford, whose brother died of the virus. “I thought of the verse, ‘All that has been done has been done by him.’ There was nothing done that was not done by him. He made the virus and he made the antidote.
Miller reported from Washington.