Despite being eligible, homebound seniors finding access to COVID vaccine a challenge

Posted at 5:06 PM, Feb 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-08 19:09:19-05

CINCINNATI — Nancy Elcho of Mount Lookout has been eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine since Jan. 19, but as of Thursday, she still had not.

That's because, like some other seniors across Ohio, the 94-year-old cannot leave her house to go get the vaccine, her son and caretaker, John, told WCPO.

John Elcho emailed WCPO looking for guidance after calling the Ohio Department of Health, the Hamilton County Health Department, the Cincinnati Health Department, the Southwest Ohio Council on Aging and talking with his mother's home health care nurses.

He wasn't looking to have his mother vaccinated immediately, he said: "I just wanted to know the plan" for getting his mother and other homebound seniors like her to receive the vaccine.

Elcho said his mother has stayed isolated at home for nearly a year now, too frail to leave home.

Health officials in both Ohio and Kentucky told WCPO Thursday afternoon that they are working on a plan to address the needs of homebound seniors in need of the vaccine, but the nature of the treatment imposes specific and rigid transportation and storage requirements.

"We are unable to transport a vaccine once it's opened," said Hamilton County Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman. "Once a vial is opened, even if you fill a syringe, you can't take that syringe off site... The two manufacturers that have vaccine available say that it's not permissible."

The Northern Kentucky Health Department's director of population health, Stephanie Vogel, echoed Kesterman's take.

"When considering vaccinations at an off-site location, some of the important requirements that must be considered and maintained include maintaining appropriate temperature of the vaccine, environmental control measures inside personal residence, how long a vial may remain punctured before all doses must be given, the length of time that a vial remains frozen, refrigerated and at room temperature, and many others," Vogel said in an email.

During his routine COVID-19 briefing Thursday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine deferred to his Department of Aging director, Ursel McElroy, who said: "We have identified home health providers that have the ability to manage the proper way to store and deliver the vaccine."

Meanwhile, Cincinnati and Hamilton County are partnering with home health agencies -- including the Council on Aging -- to develop a solution.

"We know that home health care workers are going into these homes, so ideally, at some point, the state would allow us to give vaccine to them, to bring vaccine to these homebound individuals," Kesterman said.

Without a firm date in place for when providers might be able to begin vaccinating homebound individuals, though, people like Nancy Elcho and her son will have to keep waiting.

The recommendation for those waiting is to continue to follow pre-vaccine guidelines and make sure home health care providers wear masks, wash hands often and don't come to work sick.