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Finally Seeing The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

March 2021. It has been a difficult year for everyone but we are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. It has been especially difficult for older adults who have been on lockdown for a year, unable to interact with family or friends for fear of catching the virus. You have good reason to be afraid. COVID -19 has disproportionally killed more older adults than any other age group. 39,000 people have died in New York State from complications of COVID -19 and 138 of those are from right here in Chautauqua County. Close to 90% of those who died were over the age of 60. That is a lot of families who are left without a grandparent, husband, or wife. Our deepest condolences go out to all who lost a family member this year. I am especially heartbroken about two older adults I personally spoke to in January who were desperate for a vaccine but died from COVID before receiving one.

I sympathize with all who feel frustrated trying to get a vaccine but have been unable to find an appointment over the last month and a half. You could not get an appointment because there was very little vaccine that came to the county in January and February. Those of us who work in county government have been just as frustrated when vaccine was delivered in small quantities and not consistently. Some weeks we would get vaccine and some weeks there was nothing. When the Chautauqua County Department of Health (DOH) and many community partners received vaccine it was usually a few hundred doses not the thousands of doses needed to meet the demand of our community.

I am very hopeful in March that the dynamic has finally changed. Last week, DOH, hospitals, area pharmacies, and The Chautauqua Center all received a much larger distribution of vaccine. Some of these are also starting to get the one dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine that many people are asking for.

The Chautauqua County Office for Aging Services is playing a critical role in helping older adults get vaccinated. We are working with the health department and many community partners to assist people to make their vaccine appointments.

As you know by now, all appointments must be made online and many people especially older adults do not have computers or the skill to navigate the online appointment system. People ages 65+ who need assistance making an appointment can call our NY Connects Helpline at (716) 753-4582 and we will get you on our Vaccine Appointment Assistance List. Be sure to give us a good telephone number or numbers to get in touch with you. When appointments are available, we will call you and make the appointment while you are talking to us. We only need basic information to make a vaccine appointment, however, we also have to ask you a few health questions that are required prior to being vaccinated and you must pick an appointment time and place. If we cannot get you on the phone, we cannot make an appointment.

Remember, no one should ever ask for money to make a vaccine appointment and there should never be any direct cost to the client for a vaccine. Some immunizers like pharmacies will ask you to bring your Medicare card and other insurance cards. The federal government is allowing healthcare providers to bill for the administrative costs of vaccinating but there should be no co-pay or out-of-pocket cost to the client. In New York State (NYS), it is also important to bring proof of your identity and residency. If you have a NYS driver’s license this will serve both purposes. If you do not have a NYS driver’s license or photo ID, then you may bring a photo ID from another state but you must also bring proof that you live in New York. Mail addressed to you at your NY address or a NY voter registration card are ways to prove you live in NY. If you do not have photo identification, then bring your birth certificate as well as something to prove you live in NY. When you make an appointment with our assistance, you are also stating that you will be present three weeks from now for the second shot if the type of vaccine requires a second shot.

Many people called us in the last two months but then were able to get an appointment without our help. That is great but we would appreciate it if you call us back and let us know to take you off our list. This way we will not bug you or waste time calling you as we try to schedule others for their appointments. If you received a shot in the last couple of weeks, you were given a piece of paper by DOH at the clinic to go online to complete the second appointment. If you are able to do this or get a friend to help, great! If you are unable to make the second appointment, Office for Aging Services will be helping people to schedule in the week before the second appointment clinic. Do not worry if you cannot print the confirmation. All you need is the confirmation or ticket# and the confirmed time. DOH does not need to see the printed ticket.

Vaccinating gets us all a step closer to resuming normal activities but please remember that even after being vaccinated you still need to wear a mask, sanitize and maintain social distancing whenever possible. While vaccinated people are unlike to get the virus, it is not known if they can carry the virus and give it to others. Until we are told otherwise, we encourage everyone to continue taking precautions. For the most up to date information on COVID-19 or where to get vaccinated, visit the Chautauqua County Department of Health website at https://chqgov.com/public-health/covid-19-vaccine-information. For more information on vaccine appointment assistance call the NY Connects helpline at 753-4582. Stay Safe!

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