Local COA directors wary of ‘buddy system’ vaccinations

TINA GORMAN, Westfield Council on Aging executive director

BOSTON – One caregiver can now accompany a person age 75 and older to a mass vaccination site and also receive a vaccination “buddy system” style.

Gov. Charlie D. Baker announced the change Wednesday during a televised press conference from a vaccination site at the Double Tree Hotel in Danvers.

Baker said having a caregiver – who can be a family member or “trusted friend” – accompany the resident is expected to reduce hesitation at receiving the vaccine at a mass site and increase vaccinations.

Local council on aging directors are not sure if this is the best way to get senior residents vaccinated.

Westfield Council on Aging Director Tina Gorman said she is concerned about the fallout of the new “buddy system” approach to vaccinations for those age 75 and older.

“While I think that the idea was well intentioned, I’m concerned about the ramifications,” said Gorman. “Certainly, some older adults will feel more comfortable having someone accompany them to the vaccine site. And some absolutely have to rely on another person to provide transportation as well as assistance. However, the COA directors have been told during multiple virtual sessions with staff from the Executive Office of Elder Affairs and through e-mails that the vaccine supply is extremely limited right now. Many local boards of health still haven’t received any vaccine.”
Gorman said the other concern is the ever-changing guidelines.

“As I have said before, the rules keep changing,” she said. “Two weeks ago, we were told that COA staff and volunteers whose primary focus would be to transport older adults to the vaccination sites could be vaccinated themselves. That made sense to me because the policy targeted one person assisting many seniors over the course of time. The new system is one for one. That means one driver for one senior. My understanding is that the driver can be any age. So, with limited supplies of the vaccine, it’s logical to assume that some of those in the targeted 75+ group are going to have to wait because younger drivers or ‘buddies’ are getting vaccinated.”
Gorman isn’t sure what is the best way to handle this.

Southwick Council on Aging director

“There is no easy solution,” she said, “and I must say that I don’t envy those in the position to have to make these difficult decisions. To offer some reassurance, we have been told repeatedly by those in Boston that anyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one. It’s a process that’s going to take weeks and months, but we’ll get there.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said for some people, especially someone elderly, trying to navigate a visit alone to any doctor’s visit or vaccination location can be daunting, let alone a mass vaccination site.

Sudders said having a caregiver present can ease the anxiety some older residents feel. In addition, she said the Eastfield Mall site in Springfield is among the sites that offer accessibility.

“They have accessible parking, restrooms and seating,” she said. “They also have wheelchairs.”

The site also has numerous appointments available.

Sudders said the staff at the mass vaccination sites are physicians, nurses and other medical professionals and volunteers.

Southwick Council on Aging Director Cindy Sullivan said she is hoping to have a vaccine site in-town.

“We do have seniors who are getting vaccinated at the Eastfield Mall,” she said. “Southwick is still hoping that the state will give local boards of health who have requested vaccine doses the opportunity to vaccinate locally. The Eastfield mall is a great location, it’s just too far away. We are supporting and assisting our seniors as much as possible.”

Baker said for anyone having difficulty making an online appointment, they should call 211 to speak to someone who can help.

Sudders noted that anyone 75 and older and their accompanying caregiver, who does not need to meet the current phase eligibility, both need to make appointments and once they arrive on site should remain in their vehicle until 15 minutes before their appointment. She said there is no need to arrive early and wait in line.

“You will not lose your place,” she said.

Baker said approximately 250,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were given since the start of Phase 2. He said two more sites – one in Natick and one in Dartmouth – are slated to open Feb. 22 and 24, respectively.

“We will start with 500,000 doses and scale up to 2,000 in Dartmouth and 3,000 in Natick,” Baker said.

He said they hope to have the majority of people age 75 and older vaccinated before beginning the next phase.




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