US state provides vaccines to aides for aged, drawing criticism | Coronavirus pandemic Information
Boston, Massachusetts, United States – Halee Barlow can’t wait for the COVID-19 vaccine.
But it’s not for them. She desperately wants her father to be vaccinated – and soon.
Brian Barlow of Sutton, Massachusetts, about 48 miles west of Boston, is terminally ill with liver cancer and so weakened that he is at higher risk of serious illness or death from the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The stress of the pandemic and waiting for a vaccine are nerve-wracking in Barlow’s family.
“It feels like we’re 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, who are now allowed to receive the vaccine in the second phase of the state plan.
The next phase of the phase – for those aged 65 and over, for those with two or more state-listed people, and residents and employees of low-income and affordable senior housing – is slated to begin on Feb. 18, but it’s unclear when he will make an appointment get for a bump.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts is offering the vaccine to others.
As part of its companion program, launched on Feb. 11, the state will vaccinate, by arrangement, anyone accompanying an eligible senior 75 years or older to one of several mass vaccination sites.
“Now that the vaccines are open to companions, we’re a bit frustrated that they weren’t first opened to people who really, really need them, like my father,” said Barlow, who lives in Revere, about an hour’s drive away from her father.
“Ripe for manipulation”
As of February 16, Massachusetts reported 304,657 complete vaccinations and 861,859 first doses administered to its population of six million. According to the Massachusetts Immunization Information System, the state has received a total of 1,527,150 doses of vaccine since vaccinations began in December.
The state began vaccinating in December last year, initially for healthcare workers, nursing and assisted living facilities, and first responders. Residents aged 75 and over were allowed to get bumps earlier in the month. Behind the group, which gained access on February 18, it’s the turn of key workers and people with a comorbidity as the vaccines are due to be available to the general public in April.
In a news conference last week, Republican Governor Charlie Baker said the escort program was in place to support seniors “who are uncomfortable with controlling the vaccination process.” The idea, he said, was to allow the children, spouses, caregivers and neighbors of eligible individuals to get vaccinated as well.
The criticism was quick.
“The escort system will put thousands of healthy adults in front of those who are at greatest risk of developing COVID-19 and dying,” wrote 13 lawmakers in a letter to the governor on the day the program began.
As of February 16, Massachusetts reported more than 304,000 complete vaccinations [File: Faith Ninivaggi/Reuters]Legislators called for an interruption and help from city and city health departments to coordinate vaccinations for seniors, key workers and residents with comorbidities. They called the program potentially “dangerous” for the elderly, claiming it could expose them to both scammers and the virus.
“I thought it was ill-conceived, stupid, ripe for tampering and abuse,” Republican Shawn Dooley, a Republican in the state’s 9th Norfolk district, told Al Jazeera. “And that has been proven.”
Young vaccine seekers went online looking for older partners almost immediately and offered trips to vaccine sites. They volunteered to make appointments – an online process that was criticized earlier in the roll-out due to disruptions and complexity – and to offer rides for the second dose weeks later.
On the online classifieds website Craigslist, some offered to refurbish their vehicles, open windows, hang plastic partitions between seats, and wear double masks and face shields – whatever it takes to make strangers feel safe. “You choose the music,” suggested one person from a short list of perks.
Some offered seniors money in exchange for companion slots – up to $ 1,000 – while others shared mini biographies to convince potential partners of their legitimacy: a student who claimed to be tested for COVID-19 weekly; a filmmaker in his 20s; a 35 year old mother of two; a 50 year old lawyer with a Lexus. “It’s a win to you and a win to me,” he wrote.
Governor urges caution
On the first day of the program, Governor Baker said his office had already heard “fairly disturbing reports” from people trying to take advantage of seniors and, in some cases, asking them to pay for the rides.
“Do not take calls or offers from people you do not know well or whom you do not trust, and never give your personal information to third parties,” he urged the seniors. “If you are contacted by someone who takes you to a website, please report it to the authorities.”
Dooley, who phoned the governor with his thoughts on the program, said days later that he was aware that “a bunch” of elderly people were being approached by strangers over the phone and online. The Baker administration, he said, remained “defensive” on the plan despite criticism.
“It seems like an easy thing to go back and say, ‘We tried, we were well intentioned, but we didn’t expect people to manipulate it,” he said. “Whenever the government creates loopholes , problems arise. “
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 NBC-affiliated Boston media company, insisting that it provide “critical support and comfort” to needy seniors. However, these older people should only partner with people they know and trust.
Ana, a Massachusetts resident in her late 20s who posted a notice on Craigslist that an eligible senior should be vaccinated, told Al Jazeera that she had received two responses to her request – both from unqualified men who had offered to to sleep with her.
“I was thinking ‘feminine’ that an older person could feel more reassured with more information about me, but it just resulted in strange news,” said Ana, who asked that her last name, because of the “perceived” stigma associated with linked to the vaccine, seekers will be withheld.
Ana said she is the caretaker for her mother, who is younger than 75 but already has conditions that put her at higher risk of serious illness. She said she also looks after her grandparents, who were both vaccinated before the social program was announced. Her father recently died of pneumonia suspected of being COVID-19 even though his nursing home hadn’t tested for the coronavirus.
Additionally, Ana said she had asthma, which was added to the state’s list of covered diseases as of February 18, under pressure from lawyers. “I get sick very easily,” she said.
As she sees it, the accompanying program offers the opportunity to help yourself, your family and a senior citizen who needs transportation. “I don’t want to cross the line, but I want to make sure that vaccine doses are not wasted and that everyone who is eligible is vaccinated,” she wrote in her advertisement.
School children dab and test themselves for COVID-19 to prevent the virus from spreading in a classroom at the South Boston Catholic Academy in Boston [File: Allison Dinner/Reuters]
Dr. Jonathan Marron, a research fellow at the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School in Boston, said the state’s offer was well meant but had unintended consequences.
“It could be argued that this companion plan addresses some type of symptom and not the underlying problem, which is getting vaccines for the elderly rather than getting the elderly to get vaccines,” he said.
“It’s not just like that in Massachusetts, but there is a lack of adequate infrastructure to implement the vaccination program.”
The state’s three-phase approach and support program particularly highlight distributional inequalities that could be addressed by setting up more vaccination clinics in underserved communities, Marron said. Then older people who live in isolation or who do not have regular interaction with others have better and safer chances of being treated.
“In Massachusetts and other places around the country, the highest vaccination rates are among the rich among the rich [white people], the ones who are advantageous in a certain area, “said Marron. “We need to figure out how to get vaccines for people in poorer areas and in different populations, as well as the elderly, without expecting them to come to Boston or major vaccination centers.”
Proper and thorough care of the most vulnerable populations requires time, money and effort, including a willingness to address vaccine hesitation in some cases and explain why COVID-19 vaccines should be trusted – an endeavor Marron said easier said than done.
“If there is a perfect system, I don’t think we’ve found it yet.”