LIMA — Sixty-three percent of Allen County adults over 80 years-old have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccines since Ohio’s vaccination effort started in December. But the pace of vaccinations among the oldest seniors has slowed in recent weeks, suggesting that many seniors are either wary of the vaccines or have been crowded out by a registration system that exists largely online and is difficult to navigate for those with unreliable internet access or transportation.
“Unfortunately, we will continue to have a vulnerable population unless we can do better than that,” said Dr. Karen Kier, a professor of pharmacy practice and preventative care specialist for Ohio Northern University’s HealthWise clinic.
Finding those seniors is often a challenging task.
While many of the most vulnerable Ohioans residing in nursing homes and assisted living facilities had vaccines brought directly to them, seniors who live independently have often had to navigate the process on their own.
In some cases, Kier said, pharmacists have taken vaccines to patients’ homes if they were unable to drive. And HealthWise pharmacists have reached out to churches and community groups in touch with eligible adults who want a vaccine but have been crowded out of the system.
But there’s no printed list of people who fit the criteria who haven’t been vaccinated, Kier said, and people get missed.
“It’s really people coming to us, or people we know because they’re already in our database because they have prescriptions filled with us or they’re a clinic patient of ours,” she said. “We know who to contact that way.”
In Putnam County, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in Ohio, more than 77% of adults older than 80 years-old have been vaccinated, according to Ohio Department of Health data.
The Putnam County Health Department maintained a waiting list in the early stages of its vaccination effort, which prioritized the oldest adults first even after Ohio lowered the eligibility age.
“We really felt like we needed to address them first and give them an opportunity first, because they were on the waiting list,” said Joan Kline, public information officer for the Putnam County Health Department.
African-American residents have also been crowded out of the vaccination effort, although immunization rates are improving as concerted efforts to answer questions and bring vaccines directly into majority Black communities are underway.
“We’re making some strides, but it’s still very disproportionate when it comes to the majority population,” said Dr. Willie Higgins III, director of Heir Force Community School.
The school hosted a single-shot vaccination clinic on Saturday in conjunction with Mercy Health, organized by the Steering Committee on Racial Injustice and Reform.
Dr. Vickie Sharelds, who teaches seventh and eight grade English at Heir Force and is a member of the steering committee, said holding a clinic felt like a natural progression for the committee, which was originally focused on voting rights and other causes.
“There are a lot of people in the minority community who feel so marginalized, that even though it is often said that the (vaccine) is for everyone we still have a tendency to feel that it’s for everyone except us,” Sharelds said. “So there just has to be a focused effort to make sure that every person is immunized against this threat.”