OCEANSIDE, Calif. — As thousands of vaccine appointments go unfilled in the United States, some of the most vulnerable are getting left behind.
Homebound seniors remain isolated and caregivers like Donna Linthicum have waited months for help. She contacted 211 back in March in hopes of getting her mother vaccinated.
"Her mind just failed her. She got Alzheimer's," Linthicum said. “She might be on hospice, she might be 91 years old, but I don’t want COVID to be what does her in.”
Her mother's condition worsened during the pandemic and left her unable to walk. While homebound seniors are not exposed to the virus in public, loved ones and caregivers could put them at risk when coming into the home. Once her mother is protected, Linthicum says she'll feel safe flying to see her granddaughter.
"She lives in Virginia. If I have missed anything, I think that's what I've missed," Linthicum said. "I've missed people and connection."
This month, she finally got the long-awaited call.
"He said, well, we have this mobile unit, and if your mom still needs the vaccine, we’d like to send the mobile unit to your house. And I said, 'Wow, I’ve been trying since February,'" Linthicum said.
In collaboration with San Diego County, Tri-City Medical Center mobilized experienced teams to vaccinate seniors at home.
“The one thing we've seen with this vaccine, it's unlike any other vaccine we've ever worked with," said Dr. Gene Ma, Chief Medical Officer at Tri-City Medical Center. "It's not just a shot – it’s what it represents. It represents a path forward. It represents getting back to all the things that really matter to them. It represents hope.”
In a report released last month, the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation said approximately 1.6 million adults 65 years of age and over living in the U.S. may have trouble accessing the COVID-19 vaccine because they are homebound.
Despite being highly prioritized for the vaccine, it can be a challenge reaching homebound seniors. They may have limited transportation options, lack access to the internet or distrust the health care system.
Mobile vaccine teams must follow strict health and safety guidelines.
"There are significant logistical challenges to this vaccine," Ma said.
Each vaccine has cold storage requirements and, once opened, must be distributed within a certain amount of hours. After administering the vaccine, clinical providers must monitor patients in case of any adverse reactions.
“A lot of these families and patients, the entire group, they've been isolated for a long period of time. And the idea of getting out and getting vaccinated is really overwhelming to them," Ma said.
To get on the waitlist, people in San Diego can call 211. The 211 network covers all 50 states. Specialists provide information to help with basic needs like housing, food, transportation and health care.
Had it not been for the house call vaccination effort, Linthicum says it would have been impossible to get her mother vaccinated.
"The mobile unit was the answer,” Linthicum.