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If you or a family member is homebound and hasn’t been contacted yet about a vaccine, call your local public health department to get started. Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
  • As appointments for vaccine sites become easier to secure, there’s a population of Americans who have had a much harder time accessing the vaccine: homebound individuals.
  • Currently, over 57 percent of adults in the United States have gotten at least one vaccination dose.
  • Getting to around 70 to 90 percent could mean the United States reaches herd immunity.

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the United States so far has consisted mostly of Americans lining up at stadiums, pharmacies, and doctor’s offices to get their shots.

But even as appointments for those vaccine sites become easier to secure, there’s a population of Americans who have had a much harder time accessing the vaccine: homebound individuals.

“There are some people, it is not safe for them to go out to a vaccine site, and they really do need that vaccine delivered in their own home,” said Sandy Markwood, CEO of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging.

Thankfully, that population is now becoming more of a focus for public health agencies around the country.

Tending to the needs of homebound older adults has been a focus of Markwood’s organization and its members throughout the pandemic. Early on, that looked like meal deliveries and social services. Now, many agencies are leveraging that same infrastructure to deliver vaccines.

“Right now, it is a full-blown community effort in most localities to be able to get that done,” Markwood said.

It looks slightly different in each community, but in many, it’s a team effort on the part of public health departments, sheriff’s departments, and EMTs who are working to identify and contact homebound adults to arrange for a vaccine.

Many of these individuals are already connected to local agencies, which is a big boost to this effort, Markwood said. Funding from the American Rescue Plan has also helped and allowed these efforts to staff up properly.

If you or a family member is homebound and hasn’t been contacted yet about a vaccine, there are a few ways you can get the process in motion.

The first place you should call to arrange a vaccine at home is your local public health department. Here’s a list of health departments around the country to get you started.

You could also try calling your local agency on aging, Markwood said. If you’re not familiar with that, use the federal government’s Eldercare Locator to find one in your area, or call 800-677-1116.

Again, these programs vary largely based on where you live. In New York City, for example, a new campaign is working to bring the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to homebound individuals and senior care facilities.

“There absolutely is an effort now to reach those people who initially couldn’t access vaccines,” said Roopa Kalyanaraman Marcello, a public health policy and communications expert in New York City.

As vaccination rates slow nationwide, some have been quick to point to vaccine skepticism as the culprit. But Kalyanaraman Marcello says it’s more likely due to structural barriers around access.

Especially among older adults, “There has been a lot of willingness to take the vaccine,” Kalyanaraman Marcello said. What’s held some back is being unable to travel to vaccination sites, or being unable to take time off work.

The development of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has helped a lot in this area because it doesn’t need to be stored at super-cold temperatures and can be administered with one shot.

“Now that we have that availability, we are able to reach these populations who have access issues. They weren’t people who didn’t want it,” Kalyanaraman Marcello said.

Markwood agreed, adding that she hopes communities will continue to focus on the needs of their most vulnerable members well beyond the pandemic.

“This is an issue that was there before the COVID crisis; it was amplified during the crisis, but it will not go away just because people are vaccinated,” she said.