Georgia seniors still struggling to get vaccine ahead of eligibility expansion

On Monday, millions of more Georgians will qualify for the COVID-19 vaccine, and many are buzzing with excitement and relief.

But the expansion has also deepened concerns about seniors who are still struggling to find an appointment.

St. Philip AME Church canceled its walk-up vaccination appointments Sunday, after the turnout in the first three days used up all of the doses.

Organizers told FOX 5’s Emilie Ikeda the rush was largely fueled by the upcoming, increasing eligibility.

"Once we start expanding the number of people who are able to get vaccinated, the younger, more tech-savvy individuals are definitely going to snatch up those spots from the seniors," said Dr. Cecil Bennett with Newnan Family Medicine.

Dr. Bennett estimates 60% of his senior patients haven’t been able to secure a vaccination appointment, and he says the mad scramble for a coveted slot is about to intensify, as anyone 55 years and up, plus people with underlying health conditions, can qualify this week.

"My seniors are confused," Bennett said. "They’re not very tech-savvy, they can barely use smartphones."

As a volunteer at mass vaccination sites, Noel Schenck has also witnessed the struggle the most vulnerable Americans to the virus face.

"There was a fair amount of seniors who came through, and I’d say, ‘I need your contact information and email address,’ [and] they don’t even have email addresses, they don’t have internet," Schenck said.

That’s why Bennett wants to see the state partner with Georgia’s family doctors in the vaccine roll-out in a more established way.

There are avenues for providers to apply to vaccinate patients, but Bennett said most private practices aren’t aware of that - including his own, until FOX 5 tracked down the application for him Sunday.

"I hear about the military being used, about arenas being used, parks being used, even barbershops being used," Bennett said. "But primary care physicians play no role nationally."

He sees it as a missed opportunity because he says people like him can help improve trust in the vaccine.

"My average patient has been with me for 10-15 years," Bennett explained. "I practice in Newnan, Georgia, [and there are] a lot of skeptical people down in Newnan, Georgia, but they trust me, and they trust my opinion."

In the meantime, Schenck is encouraging overwhelmed Georgians to email:

"Ask a neighbor, ask a relative, ask a friend to help you," Schenck said.

Her 96 volunteers hand out informational flyers, answer questions on Facebook and book appointments for qualified residents.

"Obviously, appointments are finite," Schenck said. "So there’s are a lot of different outlets and channels people aren’t aware of and that’s where we aim to spread the word."

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