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

Older adults living alone often lack access or an understanding of technology, and many are unsure how to sign up for an appointment.


By Kellen Browning

Annette Carlin feels trapped.

Before the pandemic, Ms. Carlin, who is 84, loved to go on walks in Novato, Calif., with her grandchildren and dance at the senior center. Since March, though, she has been stuck indoors. She has been eager to sign up for a vaccine and begin returning to normal life.

But booking an appointment has been a technological nightmare. Ms. Carlin cannot afford to buy a computer, and would not know how to navigate the internet in search of a shot even if she could. While members of her family might be able to help her there, she avoids seeing them as a safety precaution.

“It’s very frustrating,” Ms. Carlin said on her flip phone. “I feel like everybody else got the vaccine, and I didn’t.”

The chaotic vaccine rollout has come with a maze of confusing registration pages and clunky health care websites. And the technological savvy required to navigate the text alerts, push notifications and email reminders that are second nature to the digital generation has put older adults like Ms. Carlin, who need the vaccine the most, at a disadvantage. As a result, seniors who lack tech skills are missing out on potentially lifesaving shots.

The digital divide between generations has always been stark, but the pandemic’s abrupt curtailing of in-person interactions has made that division even more apparent.

Advocates for older Americans, 22 million of whom lack wired broadband access at home, say it is ridiculous that a program mostly aimed at vaccinating vulnerable seniors is so dependent on internet know-how, Twitter announcements and online event pages.

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