By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
As anyone that has tried to register for college classes, apply for government-assisted health insurance, or even buy a concert ticket online knows, for even the most tech savvy among us, signing up for things on the internet can be a confusing and frustrating process. So, to aid seniors who either are struggling to book COVID vaccination appointments or don’t have the means to do so, both Dover and Sherborn are turning to those who know their town’s seniors best: the workers at their respective Councils on Aging.
In Sherborn, that duty belongs to COA director Sue Kelliher. “We are helping seniors navigate the website," Kelliher explained. "For some people, we’re making the appointments for them, but for most people we’re sort of updating them as to what the process is, especially in the beginning when the seventy-five and older group was eligible, people were definitely clamoring to get them, but they were filling up so fast. So we were just assuring them they would get a vaccine and updating them on availability and locations. Then when the companion issue came out last week, we were explaining that if they did want a companion appointment, they’d have to do it at a mass vaccination site. We also have a transportation grant that will pay for people if they say they want to go to Gillette but can’t drive there; we have a grant that would pay the transportation to any of the sites, back and forth. So it depends on the senior, as far as how much we get involved. But for people that don’t really have access or are unable to navigate the site and they’re not sure they want to call 211, we make the appointments for them.”
Dover’s COA director Janet Claypoole echoed the sentiment that the calls they receive and the help they provide is largely dependent on the seniors.
“Many of the seniors we’ve talked to don’t have the technology. Some don’t have access to a computer, and for some it’s been a challenge to navigate the state website. So we have had staff assist them in completing their registration information, that way we can help get them scheduled in and get them into their vaccinations,” said Claypoole. “What we really try to do is find out from the seniors where they’re willing to go, where they’re most comfortable with, and where they have transportation to, that way we’re connecting them with where they want to go," she later added. "Most people want to go nearby, some people want to go to mass vaccination sites like Gillette or Fenway because there are more appointments available, but others weren’t comfortable going so far and wanted to stay more local, so we’ve sent a lot of people over to Needham. We’re really trying to listen to what the seniors want and schedule them where they’re most comfortable going.”
While Dover does not have the same grant as Sherborn, the town is still offering free rides using funds they already had.
With people 65 and older becoming eligible at nearly the same time the state website crashed, Claypoole noted how busy they have been with calls from people whose first time trying to navigate the website resulted in them finding it crashed, and calling the COA, assuming they must have pressed the wrong button or done something wrong. Other callers have seen the lack of available appointments, and again assumed they’d done something wrong, when in reality the appointments were just booked.
Unfortunately, Kelliher also noted the preponderance of COVID-related scams she’s had to warn seniors about. She's continually trying to steer them towards the correct websites and assure them they don’t have to give credit card numbers or social security numbers when signing up.
“We’ve been warning a lot of people that there were scams out there, so we’ve been telling people they didn’t have to give out information like their social security card or their credit card information. We’ve done a lot of educating. I usually send out a weekly email blast, and with the vaccine and everything changing so quickly, I would do a separate one just about vaccines and information with links to the places they should be going. So it was a combination of education, reassuring people they would get a shot, and that if push came to shove and they really had problems, that we’d book the appointment, get them there and do anything else we could to help.”
One of those scams involved offering to bring older people to a vaccination site in exchange for being the “companion” vaccine recipient. Obviously, that could be dangerous.
“If you need a ride, call the COA and we’ll get you a reputable person who has been CORIed. Don’t just take anybody off Craigslist.”
Claypoole explained that one of the biggest issues she’s run into is that there just aren’t that many appointments, because there just aren’t that many vaccines. As a result, the COA has been frequently checking the website (on top of other activities they facilitate, like outreach, planning virtual programs and putting together their “grab-and-go" meals) to see what’s available and to try and help everyone they can.
She did say that she hadn’t gotten any angry calls, however, and that nobody had snapped or cursed at her in frustration. But while the number of calls both COAs receive is likely to slow as vaccine recipients get younger, there is another serious issue on the horizon. Kelliher noted she has gotten some calls from homebound seniors who the state needs to find ways to vaccinate.
With all due respect to the scientific community and the incredible job they've done developing a vaccine and therapies for a completely new virus in less than a year, vaccines aren’t much help to seniors if seniors don’t know how to get them. So while they may not get the credit they should when the story of COVID-19 is written, Dover and Sherborn’s COA employees certainly deserve it.