Seniors Seeking Vaccines Have a Problem: They Can’t Use the Internet

Plenty of seniors do feel comfortable texting, tweeting and surfing the internet. But for those who do not, taking the time to learn a new skill often feels daunting, Mr. Kamber said. Older Adults Technology Services has taught 48,000 people how to get started online since the pandemic began, he said, and operates a tech support hotline. When vaccine sign-ups began, staff on the phones fielded thousands of questions about how to book appointments.

Area Agencies on Aging, part of a national aging network funded by the federal government and overseen by the Administration for Community Living, are also helping out. Local chapters have been calling seniors and helping them register for vaccine appointments over the phone or in person, said Sandy Markwood, the chief executive of the Area Agencies, which include more than 600 nonprofit regional centers that are guided by state governments.

In Akron, Ohio, 78-year-old Lee Freund said every hospital, pharmacy and grocery store she had called in search of a vaccine directed her to a series of confusing web pages. Ms. Freund managed to accidentally sign up for grocery delivery, but had no luck wrangling a shot. She ended up in tears.

“When you’re alone, it’s frustrating, it’s overwhelming, and it’s very emotional,” said Ms. Freund, whose husband died last year. She said she did not call her children for help because she did not want to be a burden. “It almost made me think, ‘I don’t think that this is worth it.’”

Ms. Freund finally found help with the nearby Area Agency on Aging, where a woman secured her an appointment.

By the end of last week, just 12.3 million Americans ages 75 and older, or 28 percent, had received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Senator Tina Smith, Democrat of Minnesota, who has reintroduced a bill from last year that would allocate money to help get older Americans online, said the government had failed to get out ahead of a preventable crisis by not funding senior agencies sooner.

Aging-network organizations “have been overwhelmed by the needs and the demands that they have and are struggling themselves working through the pandemic,” Ms. Smith said in an interview. “We have under-resourced this, and we are seeing the effects of it.”