Black and Brown people, older adults, and people with disabilities are the most at risk and the hardest to reach when it comes to accessing COVID-19 vaccinations. That’s why panelists joined Ethnic Media Services on June 8 to discuss how community-based efforts are reaching unvaccinated seniors and other vulnerable populations.
In the older Black community, there are widely divergent views about the vaccine according to Cindy Cox-Roman, CEO of Help Age USA, a global nonprofit organization that advances the wellbeing and inclusion of older Black people around the world.
“Information access has been a problem since so much of it has been online,” said Cox-Roman, who believes that hearing about rising vaccination rates can be reassuring to leery residents.
Meanwhile, according to the California Department of Aging, many older adults and people with disabilities have experienced similar challenges that have prevented them from becoming vaccinated. Those barriers include living alone in isolation, lack of technology like internet access, or speaking languages other than English. However, that has put them at greater risk of getting COVID, becoming extremely ill, and possibly dying from the virus.
“While California is coming back, we are not done. We are far from it,” said Kim McCoy Wade, director, California Department of Aging.
In California, more than 75 percent of people 65 years and older are vaccinated. However, that still means approximately one out of every four older adults is still not vaccinated. Those statistics are even more startling in Black and Brown neighborhoods, as disparities still exist in communities of color.
Community-based efforts include calling friends and family, door-to-door canvassing, mobile vaccination units, and in-home vaccination programs.
“Healthier older people are more likely to get the vaccine… Less healthy older people are less likely to get the vaccine,” said Dr. Louise Aronson, a geriatrician, and professor of medicine at UCSF. Author of “Elderhood”, a book that redefines aging, Aronson said 34 percent of COVID deaths were of older adults living in nursing homes.
“I have been terrified of getting COVID,” said Jessica Lehman, executive director at Senior and Disability Action, an organization that mobilizes seniors and people with disabilities to fight for individual rights and social justice.
Lehman said she has a disability, uses a wheelchair, and has a compromised respiratory system.
“This is about whose lives do we value,” Lehman said.
Meanwhile, as California reopens the economy on June 15 by lifting COVID-related restrictions, healthcare advocates said it is important that everyone does their part to help reach the unvaccinated population.
“The older you are, the more important it is to become vaccinated,” said Anni Chung, executive director of Self Help for the Elderly and a member of the California Commission on Aging. “Let the seniors know that someone loves them and cares about them.”
To set up an in-home vaccination with the local fire department call 1-833-422-4255 or visit Myturn.ca.gov.