9 Investigates

Advocates lobby for seniors with disabilities to have easier access to COVID-19 vaccine

Advocates are calling for changes at COVID-19 vaccine sites so that seniors with disabilities have an easier time getting the shot.

An attorney specializing in ADA law says the way the system is set up now puts people with disabilities at a disadvantage.

9 Investigates learned that though ACCESS LYNX customers can sign up for a trip to their vaccine appointment, only a handful have done so. Calls for priority lanes and in-home vaccine options have gotten slow, or no, response.

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Even totally blind, Sheila Young has no trouble using a computer, getting around her house, and outside of COVID-19, keeping a full social life.

“This has been really hard for me because I love to go. I love to go to lunch, I go to dinner, I love to visit people, and I love for people to come over here,” Young said. “It’s been hard.”

One thing Young can’t do, though, is drive herself to a COVID vaccine site.

“Uber or LYFT would cost me $100. How many people can afford that? Not many,” Young said.

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For most disabled seniors, the burden would be placed on friends or family to sit, potentially for hours, to wait for the shot.

“They would need someone to assist them, on two different occasions, to wait all day to get a vaccine,” ADA attorney Matthew Dietz said. “That is difficult for a person who does not have transportation.”

Dietz argues in-home vaccination efforts should have been ramped up by now, and that state-run sites should have priority access lanes for disabled and special-needs seniors. But when we asked Orange County Health Officer Dr. Raul Pino about the idea, he said it’s not that simple.

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“I don’t have a solution for each individual in our community. We have a million people. We are developing solutions to benefit the most right now,” Dr. Pino said.

Pino says the Convention Center site is not designed to have an additional fast lane, and an effort to help homebound seniors get the shot delivered to their door is still in the planning phase.

“In any system that you develop a hierarchy group, you’re going to have inequities,” Dr. Pino said. “Someone has to go first, someone has to go last, but they will not be last, I can assure you.”

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Dr. Pino says this all comes down to supply. He said the Health Department has to prioritize groups that will help the most number of people at a time, so they have been visiting senior condo complexes, and so far around 3000 people have been vaccinated in those locations.

Karla Ray

Karla Ray, WFTV.com

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.

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