Older people are at greater risk of COVID-19 hospitalization and death, but many may lack access to the online systems that could help facilitate their vaccinations, and save their lives.
Forty-five percent of Americans aged 65 to 80 report that they haven’t established an account on their health-care provider’s online patient-portal system, according to a recent analysis of survey data from the University of Michigan’s National Poll on Healthy Aging.
Some older adults who may face even higher COVID-19 risk are less likely to use patient portals, the poll found: While 39% of older white adults didn’t have an account, nearly 50% of older Black adults and 53% of older Hispanic adults didn’t have one.
Black and Hispanic Americans have been hospitalized with COVID-19 and died from the disease in disproportionate numbers. Experts say structural determinants of health, such as health-care coverage disparities and outsized representation in “essential” jobs that carry greater potential for virus exposure, put many people of color at heightened risk.
Older people who had lower income, as well as those with less than a high-school education, were also less likely than their counterparts to have an online medical account. Adults aged 65 to 80 were less likely than their 50- to 64-year-old counterparts to have an account.
“Right now, one important thing that we can do for older adults is encourage and help them to sign up for patient portal access, or log in again if they haven’t in a while, if their provider offers one, and especially if it will be used as part of the COVID-19 vaccination process,” Preeti Malani, a Michigan Medicine infectious-disease doctor who directed the poll, said in a statement. “Vaccination is so critical to protect their health, and we don’t want technology to stand in their way.”
Seniors who have no computer or need technological assistance can appoint a trusted person to serve as a “proxy” on their account, Malani noted.
The data, analyzed earlier this month, was part of a June survey of 2,000 adults aged 50 to 80. The study’s findings marked an improvement from a similar survey in 2018, which found an even higher share of adults in that age range weren’t using their patient portal.
About 47.2 million COVID-19 vaccine doses had been distributed to states as of Wednesday morning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and nearly 24.7 million doses had been administered. Some 20.7 million people had received one or more doses, and 3.8 million people had received their two doses.
The CDC has recommended that while supply is limited, health-care workers and long-term-care residents be offered initial vaccine doses, followed by frontline essential workers and people 75 and older.
The agency’s next suggested phases include people aged 65 to 74, people aged 16 to 64 with underlying conditions that put them at greater risk for COVID-19 complications, and other essential workers not included in previous phases. But beyond the first-priority group, several states have strayed from CDC recommendations, a recent analysis showed.
Amid supply shortages, eligibility and registration criteria that vary state to state, and technical difficulties, there have been widespread reports of older adults struggling to navigate online vaccine sign-ups — including the case of a local journalist who has helped hundreds of older Floridians book their vaccine appointments.
“I’m generalizing, but people 65 and older read the newspaper. The majority are not on social media. They’re not great at internet use,” says CD Davidson-Hiers, an education reporter for the Tallahassee Democrat, previously told MarketWatch.
Vaccine woes do, however, appear to cut across age groups: In a Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted this month, 53% of respondents aged 65 and up said they were “frustrated” by the current state of U.S. coronavirus vaccination — not far off from the 55% of those aged 50 to 64, 46% of those aged 30 to 49, and 48% of those aged 18 to 29 who said the same.
Seniors looking for quick information on how, where and when to get vaccinated can check out MarketWatch’s guide here.