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No COVID-19 vaccine option for the homebound

Published: Mar. 29, 2021 at 1:03 AM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - The Local Office On Aging serves thousands of seniors throughout the Roanoke Valley, and now they are taking on another mission: helping elderly citizens get the COVID-19 vaccine. However, that is not an easy task when so many of their clients are homebound, and there is currently no way to bring the vaccine into homes.

Every Monday, Meals on Wheels volunteer Lynn McGhee packs his car with boxes of food and hits the road, making his rounds to deliver hot meals to local seniors. Now he is also dishing out information on opportunities to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I started talking to my friends and say, ‘Who do you have that needs the shot,’” McGhee said. “We kind of stay up on vaccinations. If they’re at CVS, if they’re at Kroger, those kinds of places. And we get on the phone, we call people, we try to help to register folks.”

One of his clients, named Curtis, eagerly awaits his opportunity to get the vaccine.

“I need a shot,” Curtis said.

“Is it real important?” McGhee asked while delivery a meal.

“Oh, yeah,” Curtis replied.

However, like the majority of people who use the program, Curtis is homebound.

“You gotta get people to the centers to be able to get the shot, and with my caseload, if people could get to the centers, they probably wouldn’t qualify for the meal,” McGhee said.

At the Local Office on Aging, which oversees Meals on Wheels, President and CEO Ron Boyd explains there is no way to get the vaccine to people constrained to their homes.

“Especially in the city they’re looking at the mobile things they can bring in a little closer to neighborhoods, and those are for people who can get to it. The homebound can’t,” he said.

The LOA serves more than 40,000 seniors each year. Although most of those are homebound, Boyd says visitors going into their houses still put them at risk.

“Whether it’s bringing them prescriptions, or food, or whatever, so they are having some public contact,” Boyd said. “So it’s of real concern to us, at some point will something be mobilized to actually administer it in homes?”

Christie Wills, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Health, says currently there are not enough resources to offer in-home vaccinations.

“We expect to continue to improve our drive-thru delivery options, particularly with the J&J vaccine, which as a one-dose option may allow more people with mobility challenges to only need transportation once,” Wills told WDBJ7.

The state did make caregivers for the homebound eligible to receive vaccine in phase 1-A, so people will have less opportunity for exposure at home.

“We’re hoping at some point maybe personal care attendants that are actually going into the homes, they can take care of that. But how long that will take, who knows?” Boyd asked.

In the meantime, there are some moments that pay off for volunteers like McGhee aiding elderly residents of the Roanoke Valley.

One of those moments happened when McGhee took Pauline Olsen her daily meal.

“I have my two shots!” Olsen exclaimed as she opened the door.

At 87 years old, getting vaccinated is life-changing for Olsen.

“I feel relieved!” she said. “I can interact with my family. My daughter that’s in a nursing home, I want to see her. I haven’t seen her in a year.”

It’s a joy McGhee is glad to share.

“I wish you could see the smile on my face!” he said. “For people to be vaccinated, to hear in their voice that sense of relief, it does me good.”

To better help the elderly get the COVID vaccine, LOA staff and volunteers are also now eligible to get their shots as essential workers.

That includes McGhee, as well as site supervisor Barbara Clayborne. The 84-year-old has been working with Meals on Wheels for a decade, and says she can better serve clients now that she’s vaccinated.

“I feel extremely fortunate,” Clayborne said. “And also I feel that I can correspond with the community, as I go out into it each day. I feel very, very confident.”

Those staff and volunteers are distributing vaccine information along with meals, and helping the vulnerable steer clear of scams.

The Local Office on Aging is also able to utilize its vital transportation service to help those who are able to leave their homes get to a pharmacy to receive the shot. If you or a loved one could use that service, you can contact the office:

Local Office On Aging

4932 Frontage Rd NW

Roanoke, VA 24019

540-345-0451

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