Older recipients inject new tenor to COVID-19 vaccination process

Bill Smith Contributing columnist

We have been vaccinating people ages 75 and older against COVID-19 for a week now and there have been some eye-opening aspects to it.

First, it changed the tenor of the waiting rooms. It has become much more social in nature. While chairs are socially distanced and everyone is masked, there is a general feeling of camaraderie among the people being served.

Second, they are so appreciative of receiving services in a timely fashion, and they have no problem sharing their gratitude with staff. This becomes a boost to the staff and has served as a recharge. One has to remember that we have been involved in the pandemic for nine months with the same personnel — contact tracers were hired but that did not take away from the clinic or testing duties.

A third item is that this population wants someone to answer the telephone. A common complaint heard is that such and such never answers the phone. Given that these people generally have a lot of time to call, they have no problems calling over and over.

Fourth many in this older population do not have email addresses — registrations that center on this type address are doomed — on-site registration is a must. While almost all younger people have smart phones and multiple addresses, many of the senior crowd still use a flip phone, which is extremely limited.

A younger employee looked at the waiting room and said she never knew that so many old people lived here. Of course, she was also counting the 60-year-old child who was bringing a parent for a vaccination as part of that age spectrum.

The question has been asked, “Why was the roll-out so slow?” Not to get into the fact that it was Christmas week and what all that means, I told a reporter that they started with the wrong population. It was sensible to protect the health care workers first, but that population has had to be cajoled and encouraged repeatedly. If they had started with the 75-plus crowd, it would have been a smash. This population, along with the more-than-65-years-old crowd, will become the champions for others to follow.

So, on behalf of the Robeson County Health Department, thank-you Phase 1b Group 1 (as the adults more than 75 years old are labeled) for sharing your time with us and for your mostly positive reflections of the service that you received. It boosted all the staff’s energy level and their feeling of being valued.

Bill Smith is the director of the Robeson County Health Department.