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The struggle to get access to COVID-19 vaccine

The struggle to get access to COVID-19 vaccine

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Joseph R. Diehl has seen combat as a U.S. Marine in places like Saipan and Okinawa. He rose through the ranks at International Harvester after spending his youth working the ferries that crossed the Mississippi River.

Diehl is 99 years old, will turn 100 in June, and lives alone in his Bettendorf home. He asks to be called Joe and warned he is not "some weak sister."

"But I do need some help," Diehl said Monday. "I don't have a computer. Or a one of those smartphones. And I want to get that COVID shot. I ready. I'm willing. But I don't know where to go to get help getting it."

Diehl is far from alone in his predicament. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau on broadband internet access shows people over the age of 65 had the lowest rate — 49 percent — among any age group to possess broadband internet at home and a computer, tablet or smartphone to access it.

To sign up for a Phase 1B public health vaccination clinic —now focused on dosing all persons 65 and older — in Scott County or Rock Island County, you have to get online on a Friday morning and signup for a slot. Those slots — typically 600 in Rock Island or 500 in Scott County — have filled up in a matter of minutes.

Scott County's Phase 1B vaccination efforts started Monday. Rock Island County's vaccination clinics are held every Tuesday.

Diehl said he asked at a local drug store slated to start vaccinations and was told there was no vaccine. He asked his doctor and was told to seek vaccine through the public health system.

"Like I said, I can take care of myself," Diehl said. "But I sure can't get any help. I just want a little time from someone to help me at least find out how to be put on a list.

"They're always honoring veterans. That's nice. But nobody seems to give a good damn about older folks any other time."

In the effort to help seniors in Scott County who lack access to the internet or difficulty using technology, the Scott County Health Department partnered with the Center for Active Seniors, Inc. (CASI) to assist in registering those seniors in need of extra help.

CASI had 50 doses of COVID-19 vaccination to administer and hoped to help others with access.

Diehl called the CASI number and his frustration mounted. He heard a message that said due to the volume of calls the help line is closed down. Callers were asked to leave a message.

CASI CEO Laura Kopp offered an explanation. And said CASI is "deeply committed to helping seniors."

"We came in Friday morning (Jan. 29) and there were 500 message that made it into our system before the system shut  down," Kopp said. "Our volunteers had to use their personal cellphones to call people back.

"The demand is out there for the vaccine. And we know a fairly large numbers of seniors simply don't have either access to the internet or the ability to work the technology to sign up."

Kopp said people in need of assistance can leave their own message at the end of the CASI message.

"We are doing the best we can," Kopp said. "Part of the problem is that we get our vaccine from the Scott County Health Department, which get its vaccine from the state, which gets shipments from the federal government.

"So the Scott County Health Department does not know from week to week just how many doses it will get. So we don't know how many doses we will get. So it's not like we can make a list of 4,000 people and give them a date and time."

Scott County Public Health Deputy Director Amy Thoreson said high demand for the vaccine has had a ripple effect on public health and other agencies attempting to administer the vaccine.

"It is pretty difficult when you have 25,000 people for 500 vaccinations," Thoreson said. "Part of the reason we went to the online signup was simply because the number of calls into the health department overwhelmed everything else.

"We have tried to be up front and honest about this. There is simply not enough vaccine at this time. People will have to be patient. It's hard after a year, but we're asking people to stay safe and to hang in there."

Diehl said he's determined to do just that.

"I was pretty mad last Friday," he said. "But I know a lot of people want that vaccine. I'll tell you, I don't think of myself as anywhere near 99 years old. And I want to keep going. So I figured I'd better find a way to get that vaccine."

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