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The Red Tape Facing Older People Who Want the Covid-19 Vaccine

But in the race to get shots in arms, some say the bigger picture about exactly whose arms should be prioritized has been lost.

“Here we are, facing a global pandemic, with thousands of New Yorkers who have lost their lives, and who is again the forgotten group of people? The very people who need help the most,” said Mark Treyger, a city councilman from Brooklyn who said his office had been inundated with calls from family members trying to get appointments for their parents.

In New York City, more than two million residents now qualify for the vaccine, including over one million people over age 65 who became eligible this week. The city’s vaccine supply varies, with about 100,000 doses coming this week from the federal government, though some weeks it has received double that amount.

Even as the city and state rush to stand up a huge distribution network, there are increasing worries about supply, with essential workers — including teachers, police officers, transit workers and grocery store clerks — and people over 65 racing to make appointments. About 26,000 shots per day are now being administered in the city.

“Right now, if we don’t get more vaccine, there literally will not be appointments available after the next couple of weeks,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a Wednesday news conference. He called the frustrating sign-up system a smaller problem by comparison.

On Thursday, the main New York State website posted an all-caps alert, blaming the federal government for not sending enough shots for the 7 million New Yorkers now eligible and saying all appointments at state-run sites were booked for the next 14 weeks.

Covid-19 Vaccines ›

Answers to Your Vaccine Questions

While the exact order of vaccine recipients may vary by state, most will likely put medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities first. If you want to understand how this decision is getting made, this article will help.

Life will return to normal only when society as a whole gains enough protection against the coronavirus. Once countries authorize a vaccine, they’ll only be able to vaccinate a few percent of their citizens at most in the first couple months. The unvaccinated majority will still remain vulnerable to getting infected. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines are showing robust protection against becoming sick. But it’s also possible for people to spread the virus without even knowing they’re infected because they experience only mild symptoms or none at all. Scientists don’t yet know if the vaccines also block the transmission of the coronavirus. So for the time being, even vaccinated people will need to wear masks, avoid indoor crowds, and so on. Once enough people get vaccinated, it will become very difficult for the coronavirus to find vulnerable people to infect. Depending on how quickly we as a society achieve that goal, life might start approaching something like normal by the fall 2021.

Yes, but not forever. The two vaccines that will potentially get authorized this month clearly protect people from getting sick with Covid-19. But the clinical trials that delivered these results were not designed to determine whether vaccinated people could still spread the coronavirus without developing symptoms. That remains a possibility. We know that people who are naturally infected by the coronavirus can spread it while they’re not experiencing any cough or other symptoms. Researchers will be intensely studying this question as the vaccines roll out. In the meantime, even vaccinated people will need to think of themselves as possible spreaders.

The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is delivered as a shot in the arm, like other typical vaccines. The injection won’t be any different from ones you’ve gotten before. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines, and none of them have reported any serious health problems. But some of them have felt short-lived discomfort, including aches and flu-like symptoms that typically last a day. It’s possible that people may need to plan to take a day off work or school after the second shot. While these experiences aren’t pleasant, they are a good sign: they are the result of your own immune system encountering the vaccine and mounting a potent response that will provide long-lasting immunity.

No. The vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer use a genetic molecule to prime the immune system. That molecule, known as mRNA, is eventually destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse to a cell, allowing the molecule to slip in. The cell uses the mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus, which can stimulate the immune system. At any moment, each of our cells may contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules, which they produce in order to make proteins of their own. Once those proteins are made, our cells then shred the mRNA with special enzymes. The mRNA molecules our cells make can only survive a matter of minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is engineered to withstand the cell’s enzymes a bit longer, so that the cells can make extra virus proteins and prompt a stronger immune response. But the mRNA can only last for a few days at most before they are destroyed.

Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez, the city’s commissioner for the Department for the Aging, said 290 participant organizations were making 60,000 calls per week to older adults to let them know about the vaccine and help them schedule visits.

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