Apps and web portals are streamlining vaccine rollout, but the digital strategies could leave vulnerable populations behind, experts warn

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Older Americans, who have died from COVID-19 more than any other population, are finally getting broad access to vaccines in the US. 

Some health systems are starting to release plans on how they will get older populations vaccinated. Michigan-based Beaumont Health, for instance, said the only way people 65-years-old or older can make vaccine appointments will be through the hospital’s online portal, via email. The Cleveland Clinic in Florida has encouraged seniors to sign up for appointments online due to “extremely high volume of calls.” Tennessee’s Department of Health will soon require residents to make appointments online to streamline distribution.

CVS Health, which will assist the US in providing 20 to 25 million shots per month to the public, requires scheduling a vaccine appointment online or via the app.

Using technology could be an efficient way for health systems to keep track of appointments, but might limit access among older Americans. 

Read more: The 8 digital health startups to watch that are changing healthcare in 2021

Fewer than half of seniors aged 80 or older report using the internet and only 28% have broadband service, according to Pew Research Center. Just 46% of older adults living in households earning less than $30,000 a year use the internet.

AARP, the nation’s leading interest group for those 50-years-old and older, has found though older Americans are increasingly more tech-savvy, there’s a “large discrepancy” between low-income seniors compared to the general population in terms of owning technology.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune has already reported older people without smartphones or computers had difficulty making appointments online in Florida.

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“There continues to be a digital divide in the senior population as there is for the general population,” said Tricia Neuman, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “People in communities of color, lower income people, and much older people are less comfortable or have less access with technology and wi-fi than others.”

How to ensure older Americans get equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccines

The Food and Drug Administration is now encouraging states to begin inoculating elderly Americans to speed up the distribution process after the slower-than-expected vaccine rollout: 2.8 million Americans received vaccines in 2020, far short of President Donald Trump’s goal of 20 million. 

“There is no reason that states need to complete, say vaccinating all health-care providers, before opening vaccinations to older Americans or other especially vulnerable populations,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters on Wednesday. 

People 75 and older are 8 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 and 220 times more likely to die than 18-28 year olds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease has also spread particularly fast among Black Americans and lower-income workers.

Adam Gaffney, a critical care physician and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, argued in USA Today the US should have begun vaccinating the oldest Americans before slowly widening the scope to younger people to decrease deaths and hospitalizations. 

Even as …read more

Source:: Businessinsider – Tech

      

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