LIMA — Julia Nunez saw the notification: She was eligible for her coronavirus vaccine. Would she like to make an appointment at the Bradfield Community Center?
Nunez was initially hesitant given her history of allergic reactions. But her nurse was reassuring and explained the possible side effects, so Nunez felt comfortable with her decision.
The process was quick and simple for Nunez, whose prior patient relationship with Health Partners of Western Ohio, which is administering vaccines at the Bradfield Community Center, meant she was promptly notified of her eligibility and the registration process.
For some seniors, making an appointment for a coronavirus vaccine is as easy as a call from their primary care provider. But for others, trying to find a provider still taking appointments is a burdensome and defeating process that has left some seniors wondering why they were left behind.
The process has been complicated by the scarcity of vaccines and Ohio’s decentralized approach, in which each county and providers within counties decide how and when to administer vaccines.
That decentralization has allowed seniors in Putnam County to call the health department to add their names to a waiting list, while those in Allen County have had to wait until registration reopens each week or try to find an open slot with another provider. But the Putnam County Health Department’s waiting list has grown so long that eligiblity is still restricted to those 75 and older, while other health departments have stuck with Ohio’s eligibility schedule.
In many cases, seniors have relied on their primary care providers, adult children and friends to navigate the process, as more pharmacies, health care offices and community health clinics get approved to become distribution sites.
“I kept calling and making a nuisance of myself,” said Kelly Clifford, whose 90-year-old mother Wilma is set to receive her second shot after Clifford spent days trying to get her mother registered in January.
Clifford, who often works 15-hour days teaching in-person and virtual classes, called her doctor’s office, the senior citizens center, Allen County Public Health and several Lima pharmacies in search of more information. But each time she called, she was directed elsewhere or got a recording notifying her to call back later.
It took more than 30 calls for Clifford to get Wilma an appointment at the Knights of Columbus. Now, Clifford is relieved her mother is two weeks away from her second shot.
“Mom could never have navigated a computer to look up information,” Clifford said. “And to call numerous times would be difficult even if she did get through, (because) she is hearing impaired.”
For Dorothy Kerstetter, it was an accidental call for her late husband that got her registered.
“When I said that he had passed away … she said, while I have you on the phone, are you interested in getting (a vaccine)?” Kerstetter said of the call from Health Partners of Western Ohio.
The process took all of 20 minutes. Kerstetter, 76, showed up at the Bradfield Community Center on January 26, filled out a form to schedule an appointment for her second shot in four weeks, then waited 15 minutes after her shot to ensure she didn’t experience a severe reaction.
“If everybody worked that way, it would be so slick,” Kerstetter said. “It breaks my heart to hear the stories. My next-door neighbor several years ago had half a lung removed, and she doesn’t even know where to call.”