116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - As the COVID-19 vaccines become available to every adult in the state, some local entities are working to ensure homebound seniors aren't left behind in the shuffle.
Starting Monday, the state will open eligibility for the vaccine to any adult in Iowa, regardless of age or underlying health condition. Demand already far outweighs supplies of the shots, and public health officials have continued to warn that vaccines may not be readily available in the near future.
But the move to open availability also has prompted concern that seniors - at high risk for severe outcomes from the virus - may be left behind in the scramble to find appointments.
'That's the hard part, how do you know if you're able to reach all those that have that need?” asked Eugenia Kendall, quality and outcomes senior manager at the Heritage Area Agency on Aging in Cedar Rapids.
Local agencies that work with older residents have made the effort in recent weeks to ensure their clients who want a vaccine are able to get it - even if it means driving them to the appointments.
Janice Englemen-Welty, 66, is a homebound Cedar Rapids resident who needed exactly that.
On Friday morning, Kay Fisk, vice president for advocacy and donor relations for Horizons, picked up Englemen-Welty and drove her to the Linn County Public Health building. There, she received her first dose of the vaccine
She's among a dozen or so Meals on Wheels clients who had their COVID-19 vaccine appointment scheduled by the Cedar Rapids-based agency, which has made a concerted effort in recent days to offer assistance to homebound seniors locally.
Over the past few weeks, Horizons - which operates the meal delivery service - had been calling its roughly 650 clients to gauge whether they needed help finding an appointment and if they needed transportation.
Of those, about 70 clients expressed interest, Fisk said.
So far, about 15 clients have had their appointments scheduled, which are coordinated with Linn County Public Health through an allocation of doses set aside specifically for vulnerable populations.
'Since the derecho and COVID-19, we've wanted to do everything we could for our older adults,” Fisk said.
Englemen-Welty is scheduled for her second dose later this month, and will again be taken to it by a Meals on Wheels volunteer.
Without that transportation, Englemen-Welty was concerned she wouldn't be able to receive a COVID-19 shot. She said she's been disabled for about 20 years from a few health conditions, including neuropathy and fibromyalgia, and is unable to drive. She also can't afford other local transportation services, she said.
'It kept me up all night worrying about it,” Englemen-Welty said.
Many of the seniors Horizons works with are not technologically-savvy and lack the skills needed to schedule an appointment online through a local pharmacy, said Mary Griffin, volunteer manager at the agency. In other cases, clients said their doctors' offices were unable to give them the vaccine, so they were unsure of where to turn to next.
When Englemen-Welty heard earlier that vaccine eligibility was open for Iowans aged 65 and older, she wanted to schedule an appointment but didn't understand how to navigate the different websites.
'So I was really concerned I wouldn't even be able to get (a vaccine),” she said.
But then, Meals on Wheels called, asking if she needed assistance getting the shot.
'I was thrilled,” Englemen-Welty said. 'I said ‘Tes! I need help!'”
The issue of internet access will not go away anytime soon, even as the vaccine supply increases and appointments become more available, Kendall said.
It's important agencies that work with seniors continue their outreach efforts, but it's also difficult to track whether they're reaching everyone in need, she said.
'There's an element of reaching out to see who's still in need, but folks also need to speak up,” Kendall said. 'They need to advocate for themselves if there are challenges so people can help them with that.”
Kendall also encouraged residents to help their neighbors if they can, noting it's not just a public health issue but a community issue.
'If people know of someone who is homebound or seems not as able to get out, see what you can do to help,” she said.
As she gets closer to being fully vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, Englemen-Welty said she's most looking forward to seeing her children and three grandchildren, who she hasn't seen for a year.
Making plans to see them after the second dose feels 'wonderful,” she said.
'I'm really grateful,” Englemen-Welty said.
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