As we welcome a new year, there continues to be much optimism regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. However, there are also many questions around the ongoing rollout of the vaccine.
Most states have started offering vaccines to older adults — those 65 and over, 70 and over, 75 and over or 80 and over, depending on the state — but getting a vaccination appointment can be confusing and also a challenge.
State and county vaccination sign-up websites have crashed under the tremendous e-traffic, and health department phone lines have been overwhelmed. Scheduling coordination and issues, along with evolving state and local distribution plans, have led to a slow vaccine rollout.
More than 27 million doses of vaccines have been shipped across the country, but fewer than 10 million people had received their first dose as of Jan. 13.
And distribution varies from one state to the next, even though the federal government is asking states to begin vaccinating people at least 65 years of age and people of any age with serious medical conditions.
The CDC is recommending states prioritize health-care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities — where nearly 40 percent of the nation’s more than 373,000 COVID deaths have occurred. Most are doing this, though Florida and Georgia have added adults 65 and up to their top priority group, known as “Phase 1a” in many state vaccine plans.
Vaccine distribution after phase 1a is where many states vary in coordination and public communications. The CDC recommends that vaccines gradually become available to older adults — with adults 65 and up accounting for 8 in 10 deaths attributed to COVID-19 — and certain types of essential workers such as police officers and grocery store workers.
A CDC advisory panel is recommending states place people at least 75 years of age and “frontline essential workers” — including teachers, police officers, grocery store workers and postal employees —in their second phase of vaccine distribution (1b). But formal vaccine plans are being drawn up by individual governors and state health officials, who aren’t obligated to follow CDC recommendations to a T.
However, the majority of states are currently grouping older adults in their second phase of vaccine distribution, referred to as “Phase 1b.” But the definition of “older adult” varies: I live in Virginia, and neighboring Pennsylvania is focusing on adults 75 and up, while West Virginia is vaccinating adults at least 80 years of age.
Keep in mind that these plans continue to change. Older adults younger than 75 or 80 may eventually find themselves prioritized higher than where they currently sit, especially given the new federal guidance to prioritize those 65-plus.
Many state plans suggest older Americans will likely be vaccinated in the first half of the year.
“There are complexities involved, and there’s going to be some learning as we go here,” said Megan O’Reilly, vp for federal health and family issues at AARP.
AARP is fighting for older Americans to be prioritized in getting the COVID-19 vaccines because the science has shown that older people are at higher risk of death.
For the latest coronavirus news, advise and updates, and how AARP is advocating for nursing home residence, visit aarp.org/coronavirus.
Ron Mori is a member of the Washington, D.C., JACL chapter and manager of community, states and national affairs — multicultural leadership for AARP.