Categorized | Health, Pushback

Mass. Gov. Made No Buddies With Vaccine Buddy Plan

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Getting people to wear masks during the COVID pandemic has been hard enough. But getting people to accept a vaccine to protect them has been equally hard.

 

By Al Norman

Getting people to wear masks during the COVID pandemic has been hard enough. But getting people to accept a vaccine to protect them has been equally hard.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted in late January found that “rural residents continue to be among the most resistant to getting vaccinated…Republicans remain the most resistant, with 33 percent saying they will definitely not get the vaccine or will get it only if required to do so for work, school or other activities.”

In Massachusetts, the vaccine rollout has been more of a shot in the dark, than a shot in the arm. According to the Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center, “Massachusetts has been stumbling in its attempt to meet the challenge posed by COVID-19…Among the 50 states in the union, on three of the four key performance measures, Massachusetts is currently earning an F.” Massachusetts as a state ranked 42 in vaccinations per capita, and in vaccinations as a  percent off doses available, Massachusetts ranked 44.

Seniors began complaining that the Commonweath’s reliance on enrollment websites was too confusing, that appointments were hard to get, and that in many locations, vaccine supplies seemed limited or non-existent. Stop & Shop, for example, posted signs in its stores on Valentine’s Day that “no vaccine supplies are available yet.”

patient-centered, Social Security, ageist, nursing, COVID, TrumpOn Feb. 10, state officials announced that people who transported seniors age 75+ to vaccine appointments could sign up for a “companion appointment” as well — as long as they attest to being the caregiver of a person being vaccinated. Criticism of the “vaccination buddies” plan began almost immediately. Posts on Craig’s list began appearing: “Will PAY $200 to assist 75+ year old with COVID vaccine process.”

It only took one day for Gov. Charles Baker to respond at a news conference to critics of his companion plan. “We have heard some pretty disturbing reports of some people trying to take advantage of this program already,” Baker admitted.

“You should only reach out of someone you know and trust to bring you as your companion. Don’t take calls or other offers from people you don’t know well or trust, and never share your personal information with anyone. If you’re contacted by someone soliciting to take you to a site, please report it to the authorities,” Baker said. But the scammers were already out of the bag.

The governor could have turned to the state’s 350 Councils on Aging for volunteer vaccine buddies, or to the regional Aging Services Access Points.

Thirteen state lawmakers sent a letter to the governor.“We shouldn’t be having people haggle for vaccine appointments on Craigslist, Facebook, and other social media sites,” State Rep.Tami Gouveia (D), a public-health social worker, Tweeted. “This isn’t safe, equitable, or effective.”

She also said the “state’s over-reliance on private, for-profit entities…to manage mass vaccination sites is hurting our ability to effectively vaccinate seniors throughout the state. The companion system will put thousands of healthy adults ahead of those who have the most significant risk of getting and dying from COVID-19…opening up opportunities for individuals with mal-intent” to prey upon older residents who lack reliable transportation.

Massachusetts has no official waiting list of seniors eligible under the 75+, or the 65+ priorities. Other New England states, like Vermont, seem to have a simple, better coordinated system in place, which calls elders in priority categories, and sets up an appointment for them.

The “Vaccine Buddy” program, according to the New York Times, was “a concept that was not widely discussed before it was rolled out.” The governor could have turned to the state’s 350 Councils on Aging for volunteer buddies, or to the regional Aging Services Access Points. These are agencies many seniors are already familiar with and trust.

Under the governor’s plan, seniors could be driven to a vaccine appointment by someone who was COVID Positive or asymptomatic. Ironically, they could become infected on their way to a vaccination.

The Buddies program also does nothing for those seniors and disabled individuals who are wheelchair bound, or who cannot be easily transferred into a car. What is still lacking is a mobile vaccine team that makes home visits, rather than forces seniors to come to them.

In my attempts recently to help a number of my 75+ age friends get vaccine appointments, I saw first-hand the frustration and anger they felt at being unable to find out where the vaccine was available — much less get a real appointment. COVID testing and COVID vaccinations have been a true health care ordeal for many seniors, and the process itself is another example of a “sick” and dysfunctional health care system.

Al Norman worked in the elder home care field in Massachusetts for 38 years. He has been writing advocacy columns for Fifty Plus  for roughly three decades. He can be reached at alnormaneldercare@gmail.com.

 

 

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