Elderly advocates concerned about COVID-19 vaccine access for homebound patients

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Mass vaccinations sites could help speed up vaccinations for some, but what about people who are unable to leave their homes?

Getting to a hospital or even a drive through testing site would be a major challenge says Barbara Meyer, who oversees care for her 93 year old uncle Byron who had a stroke several years ago.

"He's unable to talk, unable to swallow, unable to walk on his own and very vulnerable to pneumonia," said Meyer.

Because of this, she says she hasn't even seen him in person since the pandemic began, but he now has 24/7 caregivers.

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"The best course of action would be to have someone come in and vaccinate him," she said.

Will that be able to happen?

"We don't know yet," said Dr. Carla Perissinotto, associate chief of clinical programs for geriatrics at UCSF.

She and her team visit Meyer's uncle regularly and could easily administer a vaccine in his home. The problem is getting access to it and transporting it.

"If the vaccine only lasts a certain number of hours and there's only a certain number of vaccines per vial, it's a lot of logistical challenges how we can do that efficiently and effectively," said Perissinotto.


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She said she is waiting on safety data on the Moderna vaccine, which may be more stable at room temperature than the Pfizer vaccine.

There are other solutions, including using coolers with dry ice to transport vaccines.

In order to do that, elder care advocates say states and counties will have to provide leadership and funding.

"It's going to be a challenge to reach them," said Denny Chan with Justice in Aging. "And it's going to require a level of intentionality that so far we have not seen."

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Chan is also on the state community advisory board for the vaccine rollout, a group of community stakeholders which has provided recommendations to the California Department of Public Health for equitable distribution.

As the mass vaccination sites open in the coming weeks for Phase 1B, he says he has been pushing for homebound patients to get the same level of attention as other elderly people who have access to cars.

"Not every 65 year old has the same level of risk, depending on skin color and what community you live in," said Chan.

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