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How to Get Your Homebound Parent a COVID-19 Vaccine

Ways to be proactive for the shots, since the bumpy rollout demands it

By Arlene Weintraub

On January 9, Donna Lackner-Horn made appointments for her parents, Trudy and Werner Lackner, and an aunt and uncle, to get their COVID-19 vaccines the following week at HealthAlliance Hospital-Foxhall in Kingston, N.Y., 45 minutes from their homes in Poughkeepsie, NY. Though she needed to transport them to the vaccination site, Lackner-Horn considered herself lucky to nab the appointments since her mom, 78, and uncle, 88, are mostly homebound with chronic health issues and she couldn't find a way to get them vaccinated where they live.

Older adult receiving groceries at her front door, COVID-19 vaccine
Credit: Adobe

"On Facebook, I follow various COVID awareness groups, but it was actually my town's supervisor who posted that the vaccines were being scheduled the next county over," says Lackner-Horn, 59, a nonprofit executive who lives in Hyde Park, NY. So, she clicked on a link in the Facebook post, which brought her to an app that allowed her to schedule all four appointments at the hospital. "It was just sheer luck I was scrolling through Facebook that day," says Lackner-Horn.

Some companies providing in-home health services are arranging transportation to COVID-19 vaccination sites for their homebound clients.

As her experience shows, getting homebound relatives vaccinated against COVID-19 isn't easy. But it's a problem a lot of caregivers will be facing: About 1.9 million adults over 65 are mostly homebound and another 5.3 million have health conditions that make leaving home difficult, according to the health policy think tank Commonwealth Fund.

There is no national plan for getting COVID-19 vaccines delivered to older homebound adults.

The phased rollout plans for the vaccines have been drawn up at the state level, and the early phases do include adults over 75 (in some cases, over 65). But it's logistically challenging to get the vaccines into homes, because the first two on the market, from Moderna and Pfizer, must be stored at ultra-cold temperatures.

How to Be Proactive for a Homebound Person's Vaccine

Dr. Steven Albert speaking at a podium, COVID-19 vaccine
Dr. Steven Albert

So, it's likely that family members or other caregivers will need to arrange for homebound people to be transported to vaccine centers, says Dr. Steven Albert, professor and chair of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health's department of behavioral and community health sciences.

"It is a very confusing picture right now," Albert says. "It's easy to get vaccines to nursing homes. But for every one person in a nursing home, there are probably five people in their homes with equal levels of disability who rely on a combination of family and community-based services."

So where should you start if you need to get a homebound parent vaccinated?

If they use a home health agency, calling there for guidance may lead you in the right direction. Home health aides aren't licensed to administer vaccines, but the agencies that employ them might partner with other health care providers who can bring vaccines to people's homes.

Some companies providing in-home health services are arranging transportation to COVID-19 vaccination sites for their homebound clients.

Dr. Michael Le posing for headshot, COVID-19 vaccine
Dr. Michael Le

They include Landmark Health, a Huntington Beach, Calif. company that provides in-home care in 16 states. While Landmark physicians can't bring the vaccines to homes because of the cold-storage requirement, they can assist patients getting to vaccination sites, says Dr. Michael Le, chief medical officer.

"Our social workers can help them make appointments for vaccination at places that will minimize their time out of the home. They can also tap into community resources to arrange for transportation," Le says.

Alternatively, you might try the local government where your parent lives, but don't get your hopes up. Just a few local governments are beginning to arrange for COVID-19 vaccines for their homebound populations.

What Some Local Governments Are Doing

Florida's Miami-Dade County, for example, recently posted online that it started scheduling those vaccines. The Miami Beach fire department took 600 doses of the Moderna vaccine to a local apartment building for low-income older adults and the city has taken 200 older residents to a nearby medical center to get vaccinated.

According to The Orlando Sentinel, older homebound residents in the area's Seminole County can call to have a paramedic sent to them through a new, little-known program. (Florida's governor has prioritized COVID-19 vaccinations for people 65 and older but hasn't implemented a statewide plan for the homebound.)

And the township of Nutley, N.J., just announced that it will deploy medical staff from nearby RWJ Barnabas Health to bring a COVID-19 vaccine to those who are homebound due to illness or immobility.

Check with your parent's community's social media channels and local news websites.

If your parent is part of a Medicaid waiver program (state-funded providers of long-term home care), see if there's a care coordinator to call for information about a COVID-19 vaccination, Albert says.

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An Expert's Advice for Family Caregivers

Le's advice for family caregivers who need to transport parents to vaccination sites: Do some research in advance to minimize the hassle. He speaks from personal experience.

Homebound adult with her husband, COVID-19 vaccine
Homebound Trudy Lackner, and husband Werner, got COVID-19 vaccines through their daughter's persistence.   |  Credit: courtesy of Donna Lackner-Horn

When Le got his COVID-19 vaccine at a site set up by the Orange County Fire Department, he was surprised that he had to wait nearly three hours in his car just to get into the vaccination parking lot.

Bottom line: "If you're bringing your mom or dad to a vaccination site, be proactive," Le says. "If there's a line, make sure there's a way for them to be seated in the shade or to have their spot saved in line, so it's not so much of a physical struggle for them."

As for Lackner-Horn's four relatives, they got their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on January 12. The check-in and administrative work was "seamlessly efficient," Lackner-Horn says.

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What's more, they were able to make appointments for the required second dose onsite. "They are all very pleased, and a bit elated," Lackner-Horn says. She's relieved.

Arlene Weintraub
Arlene Weintraub is a science journalist and author who has contributed to Forbes.com, The New York Times, U.S. News & World Report, Cure, Fierce Markets and other media outlets. She was previously a senior writer based out of the New York City headquarters of BusinessWeek, where she wrote hundreds of articles that explored the science and business of health. She is the author of Heal: The Vital Role of Dogs in the Search for Cancer Cures and Selling the Fountain of Youth. Read More
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