On Top Of Confusing And Flawed Vaccine Rollout, Some Seniors Have Struggled To Navigate The Technology Required To Schedule An Appointment.

By Lauren Sausser lsausser

He tried to find one online. He called his doctor’s office, but a voice message indicated they had no vaccines available. Then he received a phone call. A friend had passed his name along to someone at Roper St. Francis. The hospital system was setting up a mass vaccination event in North Charleston. Henderson, who works in real estate and lives in Goose Creek, was able to schedule one of the first appointments. “That was just a matter of luck for me that a friend of the family was able to pass my name along,” he said. “I actually was fortunate. … I was a guinea pig, one of the first registrations.”

Other seniors in South Carolina haven’t found the process so easy to navigate. Since the S.C. Department of Environmental and Environmental Control announced Jan. 11 it was opening up vaccine availability to anyone 70 and older, many elderly people across the state have faced significant obstacles in actually obtaining one, including clogged phone lines and appointment backlogs.

But the heart of the problem is this: There simply aren’t enough vaccines yet to satisfy demand, forcing some people to wait weeks or months for their first dose even though they qualify for one now. “I see it all over Facebook. People can’t seem to get an appointment to get their vaccine. A lot of those people are my friends,” Henderson said. On Top Of The Confusing And Flawed Vaccine Rollout, Some Seniors Have Struggled To Navigate The Technology Required To Schedule An Appointment.

Elizabeth Bernat is director of both the Waring Senior Center in West Ashley and the Lowcountry Senior Center on James Island. She said some of their clients suffer from hearing loss and vision impairment, making it difficult for them to read text on their small smartphone screens. And while the pandemic has forced many older people to become more tech-savvy than ever before, others may lack a computer or internet access altogether.

Often, staff at the senior centers help their clients navigate these tech issues, but they’re not allowed to sign them up for vaccine appointments, Bernat said. “We don’t have that ability,” she said. As a workaround, her staff compiled a one-page PDF document with phone numbers and locations where seniors can obtain a vaccine. Other groups are trying to make the process easier, too. In Florida, news outlets reported that Publix will now start allowing one person to make vaccine appointments for up to four people to accommodate seniors who have had trouble with the process.

And locally, Fetter Health Care Network, which operates clinics across the Lowcountry and serves many low-income patients, has set up a series of vaccine events at area churches that do not require seniors to make an appointment. The vaccines are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis to anyone 70 and older. Identification or proof of age may be required.

Henderson is scheduled to receive the second dose of the vaccine through Roper St. Francis this month, even as many of his friends continue to fight to make their first appointment. “Now we’re sitting with the worry is the second (dose) going to be available to us,” he said. “I have an appointment for Feb. 10 and I’m hoping I’ll be able to get it. But at least I have the appointment.”

Of course, none of these problems are unique to South Carolina seniors. Henderson’s brother in Florida recently called the state health department there 1,200 times over two days to make a vaccine appointment. As of Jan. 27, he still wasn’t able to find one.

This news was originally published at Post And Courier.