Massachusetts residents over 75 years old can now request an online appointment to receive the COVID-19 vaccine under Phase 2 of the state vaccination plan which began on Monday. But getting an appointment is not an easy task, as the demand is high and the availability is limited. Those who are proficient in technology and English have a better chance of obtaining the appointment through the website designated by the state.
Staff at Chelsea Senior Center say they have been receiving dozens of calls a day from Spanish-speaking residents asking for help getting an appointment. Others sought answers about the effectiveness of the vaccines, or their eligibility based on immigration status.
Many residents “fear not knowing how to do it, not wanting to go through the process of being on the computer. It gets frustrating and then there’s the language barrier,” said Tracy Nowicky, director of senior services for the City of Chelsea. “We need something a little bit more user friendly for our seniors, especially our non-English speaking ones,” Nowicky added.
Activists are asking the state to provide a multilingual customer service hotline. In the meantime, the website remains the primary way to get the COVID-19 shot, and it uses a Google plug-in that facilitates translation into several languages.
Still, users have reported that it does not work on certain mobile phones. Additionally, once a place is located on the map, it takes you to the particular website of each vaccination center, where people are asked to fill out a form that, in most cases, is only available in English.
Older adults are not the only group having a hard time. Many healthcare workers have not been able to get vaccinated. Carmen Lamarche, a Dominican woman who works as a personal care assistant for elderly and disabled patients in Lawrence, is among them.
“I have tried to make an appointment for myself, but the system always says there is nothing available,” Lamarche said. After weeks of trying, all Lamarche managed to get was an appointment in Worcester, which she turned down because it is more than an hour away from her home. Lamarche takes care of two elderly seniors who have asked her for help getting vaccine appointments of their own.
“If I haven’t been able to get it for myself, what will this mean for them?” she said.
Rebecca Gutman, vice president for homecare in the 1199 United Healthcare Workers Union, explained that getting vaccinated has been more difficult for home caregivers because they do not have a centralized employer that can provide them with the vaccine, but instead have to find the appointment on their own. Gutman estimates that about 30% of the union’s personal home caregivers (PCAs) are immigrants.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said new appointments would be added every Thursday at the vaccination centers, which include Gillette Stadium, Fenway Park, the Eastfield Mall in Springfield, and the DoubleTree Hotel in Danvers. A total of seven sites will open in the next 10 days, Baker said, noting that there are currently about a million people eligible to get vaccinated in the state.
However, Gutman complained that most of these vaccination centers are not close to immigrant communities. “We definitely want to see more sites open up with more availability in places like Lawrence, Lynn or Holyoke,” said Gutman, who is also advocating for all centers to have Spanish-speaking staff who can clarify questions from patients.
Chelsea City Manager Tom Ambrosino confirmed that a new vaccination center will open on February 4 at 318 Broadway, Chelsea, in partnership with the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center. Eligible residents will be eligible to request free roundtrip transportation to receive both dosis. EBNHC patients can contact their primary physician directly to make an appointment.