March 22, 2021

Senator Hassan, Colleagues Urge Biden Administration to Increase Accessibility of COVID-19 Vaccines for Older Granite Staters and Americans

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) joined her colleagues in urging the Biden administration to help more older Granite Staters and Americans schedule their COVID-19 vaccine appointments.

 

In a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director, Rochelle Walensky, the Senators noted that many older Americans—who account for more than 80 percent of COVID-related deaths—lack broadband access or do not regularly use the internet, leaving them at a disadvantage when signing up for a vaccine appointment online. The Senators encouraged the CDC to consider all available options to ensure that all people, and in particular older Americans, know how to navigate and can access vaccine scheduling systems.  

 

The Senators wrote, “The CDC plays a critical role in overseeing the nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and is uniquely positioned to work with states to implement effective and equitable systems to schedule and administer vaccines... We look forward to working with the Administration to ensure the success of a federally-supported vaccination website and call center to address some of the barriers to accessing vaccines.

 

Senator Hassan is leading efforts to promote equitable COVID-19 vaccine access for Granite Staters and Americans in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. The American Rescue Plan that was recently signed into law includes $160 billion to support public health, and includes a fix pushed by Senator Hassan to address a vaccine funding allocation shortfall for New Hampshire. Earlier this week, the Senator questioned administration officials about what the administration is doing to work with states and improve access to COVID-19 vaccines for individuals with disabilities, which is a concern that Senator Hassan previously led efforts to address. Additionally, in February, Senator Hassan pushed the Department of Veterans Affairs on how it is ensuring that veterans who may struggle with technology or lack broadband access can still schedule their vaccine appointments since many facilities are offering appointments online.

 

Full text of the letter can be found HERE and below.

 

Dear Director Walensky:

 

We write to encourage the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to take additional action to ensure that older Americans—including seniors who may not have access to broadband or other necessary technology—can access appointment and scheduling systems for coronavirus vaccines.

 

As you know, this pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on older adults. They are at a higher risk of serious illness if infected and account for 80 percent of all coronavirus-related deaths.  The impact is not just physical—in July 2020, nearly 50 percent of older adults reported that coronavirus-related stress had a negative impact on their mental health, up from 31 percent in May 2020, closer to the beginning of the pandemic.  In recognition of this, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended the prioritization of older adults in its proposed Phase 1b and 1c of vaccine distribution.  

 

However, the majority of all coronavirus vaccination appointments are currently scheduled online—exposing a critical generational digital divide that threatens to limit access to vaccines for some of the most vulnerable populations. Nearly 1 in 3 seniors in the United States do not use the internet, and many that do struggle to use it effectively.   For seniors who have access to an online appointment portal, other issues persist, including registration websites frequently crashing due to overloads of traffic, challenges creating registration accounts, and glitches where available appointments vanish before applicants can enter all of their information to register.  These issues are compounded by the fact that nearly 22 million—or 42 percent—of American seniors lack broadband access at home, while many others do not own a working computer. 

 

The CDC plays a critical role in overseeing the nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and is uniquely positioned to work with states to implement effective and equitable systems to schedule and administer vaccines. We appreciate the Administration’s work to examine various options for a centralized vaccine scheduling and appointment system for Americans, including the elderly, to access vaccines.  We urge the CDC to consider all available options and resources to ensure that people can navigate and access vaccine scheduling systems, and we look forward to working with the Administration to ensure the success of a federally-supported vaccination website and call center to address some of the barriers to accessing vaccines.  

 

The progress made in developing multiple safe and highly effective vaccines to fight the coronavirus in less than a year is nothing short of a medical marvel. We must now take steps to ensure these vaccines are accessible—and that begins by making sure all Americans, including older adults, have access to vaccination appointment systems.

 

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

 

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