County Officials Commiserate with Cape Cod Seniors over COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout
Barnstable County officials put out an automated call to some 50,000 Cape residents over the age of 65 last night to talk about access to and safety of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The public call was a major part of the county’s effort to reach the thousands of Cape Codders aged 75 and older who are now eligible for the vaccine, and allowed the county to collect phone numbers from over 600 people who say they don’t have access to internet, and 100 people who say they’d need a ride to their vaccine appointment.
The county will be able to connect those in need with services provided by The Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority, which is now offering free rides to COVID-19 vaccination sites for anyone who has an appointment.
During the call, residents were also able to ask questions, including: if I take blood thinners or have cancer, can I take the COVID-19 vaccine? Will there be accommodations at vaccination sites for people with disabilities or who can’t stand or sit for long periods? Will primary care doctors have a supply of vaccines in their offices? Do I need to get both vaccinations at the same site?
The myriad questions from just some of the 13,000 people who tuned into the call reflect what several officials on the call characterized as a confusing and frustrating rollout.
Dr. Kevin Mulroy, an internist and senior vice president at Cape Cod Healthcare, tried to assuage the worries.
“All in all it is a very safe vaccine,” he said. “Overwhelmingly I’d recommend everyone who is eligible get vaccinated.”
In order to reach herd immunity— a critical threshold where the entire community is protected, even those who are not themselves immune — 70 percent of Cape Codders must be vaccinated, Mulroy said.
“We want to relieve anxiety and calm frayed nerves,” added State Senator Julian Cyr, during the hour-long call. “Changes are underway at the state level to increase distribution and tighten management of the vaccine.”
Vaccine access issues have been among the most pressing, thus far. Barnstable County Health Director Sean O’Brien specifically called challenges when it comes to signing up for a vaccine appointment online.
“I’ll be very blunt: we’ve seen issues with the software in order to sign up,” he said. “It has been difficult for our sites to be located on the mass.gov site. We have been working with the state to get that corrected."
Kevin Cranston, assistant commissioner for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, acknowledged how difficult it’s been for the public to navigate the online-only system.
“I’m glad there’s such demand,” he said, “but it breaks my heart when people have to spend long hours trying to get an appointment.”
Still, like many others, State Senator Sarah Peake urged patience. The Baker administration says changes are coming.
“The governor has committed to unveiling a phone booking option later this week, and we are waiting for that information to be released,” she said. “I know I’m certainly looking forward to this, as many of you are as well.”
For immediate questions on signing up for a COVID-19 vaccine, Barnstable county launched its own helpline. The number is 1-774-330-3001.
A recorded version of the entire call can be found here.