Boston, Massachusetts, United States – Halee Barlow can’t wait for the COVID-19 vaccine.
But it’s not for her. She is in desperate need of her father’s vaccinations – and soon.
Brian Barlow, of Sutton, Mass., About 77 kilometers (48 miles) west of Boston, is terminally ill with liver cancer and is sufficiently immunosuppressed to put him at a higher risk for serious illness or death from to disease caused by the coronavirus.
The stress of the pandemic and the wait for a vaccine strain the nerves of Barlow’s family.
“It gives the impression that we are working against the clock,” she told Al Jazeera. “The longer we wait, the less time we really have to spend with him.”
At 72, Barlow’s father is three years younger than residents now allowed to be vaccinated as part of the second phase of the state’s plan.
The next phase of the phase – for people 65 and over, people with two or more state-listed health conditions, and residents and staff of low-income and affordable senior housing – should begin on February 18, but it’s unclear when he’ll have a date for a jab.
In the meantime, Massachusetts is offering the vaccine to others.
As part of its support program, set up on February 11, the State will vaccinate by appointment any person accompanying an eligible elderly person aged 75 or over to one of the many vaccination sites in mass.
“Now that vaccines are open to companions, we’re a little frustrated that it wasn’t opened for the first time to people who really, really need it, like my dad,” said Barlow, who lives in Revere. , about an hour away. from his father.
‘Ready for handling’
As of February 16, Massachusetts reported 304,657 complete vaccinations and 861,859 first doses administered among its population of six million. The state has received a total of 1,527,150 doses of the vaccine since vaccinations began in December, according to the Massachusetts Immunization Information System.
The state began vaccinating in December last year, first for healthcare workers, nursing and assisted living facilities, and first responders. Residents 75 and older were allowed to take beatings earlier this month. Essential workers and those with comorbidities are next, behind the group that was granted access on February 18, while vaccines are expected to be open to the general public in April.
At a press conference last week, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said the companion program is in place to support older people “who don’t feel comfortable navigating the immunization process.” alone. The idea, he said, was to allow children, spouses, caregivers and neighbors of eligible people to be vaccinated as well.
The criticism was swift.
“The support system will put thousands of healthy adults ahead of those at greatest risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19,” 13 state lawmakers wrote in a letter to the governor on the day the program has started.
Lawmakers have called for the shutdown and help of city and town health departments to coordinate vaccines for the elderly, essential workers and residents with co-morbidities. They called the program “dangerous” for the elderly, saying it could expose them to crooks as well as the virus.
“I thought it was ill-conceived, stupid, ripe for manipulation and abuse,” Representative Shawn Dooley, a Republican from the 9th District of Norfolk, told Al Jazeera. “And it has been proven.”
Young vaccine seekers went online looking for senior partners almost immediately, offering trips to vaccination sites. They volunteered to set up appointments – an online process criticized earlier in the deployment for issues and complexity – and to provide rides for second doses weeks later.
On the online classifieds site Craigslist, some offered to disinfect their vehicles, open the windows, hang plastic partitions between the seats, and wear double masks and face shields – whatever it takes. to make strangers feel safe. “You choose the music,” one person suggested from a short list of perks.
Some offered money to seniors in exchange for companion slots – up to $ 1,000 – while others shared mini bios to convince potential mates of their legitimacy: a college student who claimed to be tested weekly for COVID-19; a filmmaker in his twenties; a mother of two 35-year-old children; a 50-year-old lawyer with a Lexus. “It’s a victory for you and a victory for me,” he wrote.
The governor calls for caution
On the first day of the program, Gov. Baker said his office had already heard “quite disturbing reports” of people trying to take advantage of the elderly, in some cases asking them to pay for rides.
“Do not take calls or offers from people you do not know well or whom you do not trust, and never share your personal information with anyone,” he urged the elderly. . “If you are contacted by someone who asks you to direct to a site, please report it to the authorities.”
Dooley, who called the governor to share his thoughts on the program, said several days later he was aware that “a group” of seniors had been approached by strangers over the phone and online. The Baker administration, he said, remained “defensive” of the plan despite criticism.
“It seems easy to go back and say, ‘We tried, we were well intentioned, but we didn’t expect people to handle it,’ he said. “Every time the government creates loopholes, it creates problems.”
Baker’s office did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment. Its COVID-19 command center defended the program in an email to the Boston-based NBC-affiliated media outlet, insisting that it provides “essential support and reassurance” to older people in need, but noting that these elderly people should only associate with people they know and trust.
Ana, a Massachusetts resident in her late 20s who posted a notice on Craigslist to get an eligible senior to get the vaccine, told Al Jazeera that she received two responses to her question – both from ineligible men offering to sleep with her.
“I put ‘woman’ in thinking that an older person might feel more reassured with more information about me, but it just led to some weird messages,” said Ana, who asked that her name be family is not disclosed due to the “perceived” stigma associated with the vaccine researchers.
Ana said she was a babysitter for her mother, who is under 75 but suffers from pre-existing conditions that put her at higher risk for serious illness. She said she was also looking after her grandparents, both of whom were vaccinated before the companion program was announced. Her father recently died of pneumonia due to what she suspects to be COVID-19, although her nursing home has not tested for the coronavirus.
Additionally, Ana said she suffers from asthma, which was added to the list of state-covered health issues as of February 18 following pressure from lawyers. “I get sick easily,” she says.
According to her, the accompaniment program offers the opportunity to help herself, her family and an elderly person who needs transportation. “I don’t want to cut the line, but I want to make sure that no dose of vaccine is wasted and that everyone who is eligible will be vaccinated,” she wrote in her ad.
Dr Jonathan Marron, a researcher at the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School in Boston, said the state’s offer appears well-intentioned but has unintended consequences.
“You could argue that this add-on plan is somehow about treating a symptom and not about treating the underlying problem, which is giving vaccines to older people rather than getting them vaccinated,” he said. .
“It’s not unique to Massachusetts, but there is a lack of adequate infrastructure as to how we are deploying the immunization program.”
The state’s three-phase approach and the accompanying program in particular highlight distribution inequalities that could be alleviated by creating more vaccination clinics in underserved communities, Marron said. Second, older people who live in isolation or who do not have regular interaction with others have a better and safer chance of being treated.
“In Massachusetts and elsewhere in the country, the highest vaccination rates are among the wealthy, among [white people], those who are in a position of advantage in a given area, ”said Marron. “We need to figure out how to get people living in the poorest neighborhoods and diverse populations and the elderly vaccinated without waiting for them to come to Boston or the big vaccination centers.”
Appropriately and thoroughly caring for the most vulnerable populations takes time, money and effort, including a willingness to address vaccine reluctance in some cases and to explain why COVID- vaccines 19 should be trusted – a business that Marron says is easier said than done.
“If there is a perfect system, I certainly don’t think we’ve found it yet.”