Missouri officials are taking crucial steps to upgrade eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines, although there are indications that some elderly Missourians may be left behind.
This week, as the state questions half a million more Missourians for vaccinations, data shows roughly half of Missouri’s seniors have not yet received a shot.
This affected some health professionals, lawyers, and seniors themselves, including Jan Sanderson, who has worked to shorten vaccination appointments for many of the senior members of her Lee’s Summit’s retirement community.
“How can we ever get the people on my street vaccinated with another half a million people?” Sanderson said.
In late December, Missouri kicked off vaccinations by offering shots to health care providers as well as residents and long-term care facility workers. In mid-January, as part of Phase 1B – Tier 2, the officials extended the authorization to all persons aged 65 and over.
After more than two months of vaccinations, only 55% of Missourians ages 65 to 74 have received doses, according to the state. Only 42% of 75-84 year olds and 57% of 85 year olds and over have received gunfire.
On Monday, the state activated Phase 1B-Tier 3, which includes teachers and critical infrastructure staff. Officials estimate that this group includes more than half a million people.
While Missouri’s vaccine distribution strategy has been to quickly expand eligibility to larger populations, health experts say seniors should remain the focus.
“Medical executives from our state of Missouri all agree: We must give priority to our seniors,” says infectious disease specialist Dr. Mary Anne Jackson, Dean of the University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Medicine.
COVID-19 poses the greatest threat to the elderly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that people ages 65 to 74 are 1,100 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than people ages 5 to 17 . In the 75 to 84 age group, the likelihood of death is 2,800 times higher.
But health care lawyers and seniors themselves say they are struggling to get the vaccine because of the complications of accessing the vaccine.
Sanderson has been working for the past few weeks to arrange vaccination appointments for her neighbors at Cedar Creek Village, an old age community at Lees Summit, where she moved with her husband two years ago.
Sanderson, the secretary of her homeowner’s association, was eager to restore the vibrant community that had disappeared after the coronavirus outbreak a year ago.
“There are only nice people who live on this street and the other street that belongs to our HOA, and we haven’t been able to socialize,” she says.
The hesitation of the vaccine among Sanderson’s neighbors and most seniors seems to be a relatively minor issue. Nationally and in Missouri surveys show that older people are most susceptible to vaccination, likely because of their higher risk of developing serious illnesses.
“We’re in the group of people who are dying,” says Sanderson.
Although most of her neighbors have been eligible for weeks, she spent a few days searching pharmacy, hospital, and health department websites for appointments for neighbors with no or limited internet access.
However, saving an appointment does not guarantee a shot. Some of their neighbors have canceled appointments or arrived to find lines that are too long to stand in.
For Sanderson’s neighbor Joan Haigh, who is 80 years old, the difficulty of getting a shot was daunting.
“There always seems to be a headache or hiccup along the way,” says Haigh.
Data suggests Sanderson and her neighbors aren’t the only ones in the Kansas City area who have had trouble getting gunshots.
A Deloitte Consulting study commissioned by the Missouri Department of Health found that Jackson County had the second highest number of people with vaccine qualifications who had not received any gunshots. Cass County was also found to have large numbers of unvaccinated eligible individuals.
Missouri Governor Mike Parson recognized the different vaccination rates when he announced the activation of Phase 1B – Tier 3 in late February. However, he said the move was based in part on state estimates that 40% of Missourians would not seek vaccines and claimed eligibility was required to continue the vaccination campaign.
“One reason we’re enabling Tier 3 on March 15th is to make sure there is a steady flow of people who are eligible and interested in getting vaccinated,” said Parson.
More recently, Parson announced a new vaccine distribution strategy aimed at delivering more doses to areas with higher numbers of unvaccinated eligible individuals.
Even with greater numbers of doses going to the Kansas City area, health care advocates argue that seniors are still at a disadvantage because of the complex system of online enrollments and travel required for admissions.
“I think the biggest challenge is that there has not been a concerted, focused effort to sit down from the consumer perspective and think step by step what it takes to give this vaccine,” said James Stowe, Director of Aging and adult services for the Mid-America Regional Council, which has a contract with the state to help seniors get vaccines.
The Kansas City Health Department announced Tuesday that it would focus its own vaccination efforts on residents 65 and older and prioritize that group before scheduling people from lower priority groups.
“We don’t want anyone, especially our elderly residents, to fall through the cracks of a residue or into the swarm of people standing in line for the vaccination,” said Health Department head Dr. Rex Archer, in a press release.
The proliferation of more dangerous and transmissible COVID-19 variants makes vaccinating seniors even more urgent, says Dr. Jackson. Because of the immunity developed by people who have already contracted the coronavirus and the increasing number of people receiving vaccines, herd immunity could be achieved in many places by the end of May, she says. Until then, however, seniors can be at high risk.
“In the meantime, we’re trying to keep people out of the hospital and keep people from dying,” says Jackson. “It is therefore particularly important to give priority to this particular segment of our population – and those with additional underlying diseases.”
Sanderson estimates that around 70% of their neighbors have now received cans. But she says she is overwhelmed with the process of helping them and wishes they had more help than she – or the various websites and hotlines – can provide.
“I wish we had a lawyer, a real lawyer. No recording on a phone – leave your name and number and we’ll get back to you at some point. ”