ReboundDoing What’s Right


With demand high and supply low, vaccinating America's seniors is taking time

vaccinating elderly
Posted at 3:14 PM, Feb 11, 2021

Covered in snow, a bitter coastal wind whips across the beaches of Chatham, Massachusetts.

But out here in the middle of winter, the fight to vaccinate this nation’s senior population is in full force.

Anna Marie has spent most of the last year inside her Chatham, Massachusetts home. This 68-year-old retired teacher hasn’t been able to see her kids or many friends for fear of catching COVID-19.

“It’s difficult that I can’t see my children; that’s the biggest thing. It makes me ache for better times,” Anna Marie said while standing outside of her home, which had just been dusted with a few inches of snow.

About 215,000 people live on this stretch of the peninsula year-round. Most of the residents are over age 65. Barnstable County, which encompasses all of Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, is considered to be the oldest county per capita in all of New England. But getting the vaccine to people who live here has been a slow process, mainly because supply is much lower than health officials anticipated.

It’s left people like Anna Marie in limbo as they wait for their turn in line, “We can’t push what we can’t control, I’ve learned more patience through all of this.”

County health officials, though, are doing whatever they can to inoculate as many people over age 75 as possible. Recently, hundreds of cars lined a busy road in downtown Barnstable, with eager residents ready to get their Pfizer vaccine.

“This is what we want to do. We want to make sure the vaccine isn’t in a freezer and it’s getting into people’s arms,” explained Sean O’Brien, who serves as the director of Barnstable County Department of Health.

The problem at vaccination sites across the nation isn't demand, it's the supply.

On this day, nurses stretched 975 vials of the Pfizer vaccine into 1,300 vaccination shots. Even at that rate though, it could take 215 days to inoculate everyone who lives in this county, regardless of their age.

“Because there are so few vaccines, it’s almost a competition to get the numbers here, and that’s sad. It should be more equitable,” O’Brien said.

Transportation is also playing a major role in how quickly this nation’s over 65 population can get vaccinated. Not everyone has access to a car or a license.

Barnstable County has one of the oldest populations in the country. It ranks with retirement communities like Sumter County, Florida, where the average age is 66, and Catron County, New Mexico, where the average age is 60.

Because those age groups are at higher risk for having severe complications from COVID-19, vaccine rollout is critical.

“We have just a lot of older people down here. A lot of folks in that 65 plus age group that need to get this shot,” O’Brien added.

By the end of the day, nearly 1,300 people had received their COVID-19 vaccine, a small percentage of the population who calls Cape Cod home. But Sean O’Brien and other public health officials here are on a mission to make sure no vaccination shot is wasted.

“With a lack of vaccine, we know people want it but we’re just asking for patience.”