Nurses, non-profits take vaccine to home-bound people

SAN FRANCISCO, United States ( AP) — For months, Victoria McAllister searched online to make a vaccination appointment. Unlike other people who can hop into a car, though, she has ruptured discs that could slice her spinal cord if she hits a pothole or her wheelchair bumps floor molding.

So McAllister, 64, was over the moon when her local county health department in Hayward, California, called offering to inoculate her against COVID-19 at home. Two paramedics with Hayward Fire came last month, jabbed her arm with the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine and stuck around to make sure she was alright.

“Absolutely blessed,” she said of how she felt after receiving her vaccination. As soon as they left, she called her doctors and passed along the county phone number with this message: “Call this number and get all your homebound patients to call this number.”

As interest in mass coronavirus vaccination sites dwindles nationwide, providers are ramping up efforts to find and reach millions of people in the US who cannot leave their homes or who need help with transportation. The process is slow and requires careful planning, but advocates say getting vaccinated is critical for people who are constantly exposed to visiting aides — and that they should have been a focus sooner.

While the effort is happening in many states, experts say California has one of the most robust programmes. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania is stepping up efforts, Governor Tom Wolf said in April.

Health-care workers at Boston Medical Center have been racing to inoculate patients since February. And New Jersey, under pressure from advocacy groups, recently posted a phone number and online form for people needing in-home vaccinations.

Elsewhere, the Visiting Nurse Association of Texas, which delivers hot meals to thousands of people in Dallas County, is partnering with the fire department to deliver about 60 in-home vaccinations a week.

Jennifer Atwood, managing director of development and communications for the Texas non-profit, said a woman who survived brain cancer only to fear COVID-19 “was almost in tears” about getting the vaccine. Another client in her late 80s was persuaded to accept a vaccination after speaking with Atwood and others.

It’s hard to say just how many people are in the group. Harvard Medical School professor Dr Christine Ritchie has said there are an estimated two million homebound adults in the US and another five million who have trouble leaving their homes or require help to do so.

Inoculation efforts are scattered, and much depends on local officials and medical providers.

“California is one of the few states I’ve heard that’s doing anything in regards to that, like actually going out and vaccinating people in their homes,” said Kelly Buckland, executive director of the National Council on Independent Living, an advocacy group in Washington.

He and others are frustrated that providers and government are just now starting to focus on that population.

“This was a problem we knew we were going to have,” said Caitlin Donovan, spokeswoman for the National Patient Advocate Foundation. “How are there not plans in place?”

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