British Columbia

Frustration grows among B.C. seniors over lack of COVID-19 vaccine information

Seniors advocates say lack of details about vaccine rollout, coupled with technological and language barriers, are creating anxiety.

Provincial government promises to reveal Phase 2 details on Monday

Advocates for B.C. seniors advocates say they want details on how to get a COVID-19 vaccine. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

While the B.C. Government prepares Phase 2 of its vaccine plan, Ramona Kaptyn is getting flooded with calls from anxious seniors.

"People are very fearful, there is so much fear mongering going on, for heaven's sake," said the director of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP).

"I get calls daily from my members saying: What happening? Why aren't we getting the vaccine? We heard it's not coming?"

The White Rock, B.C., resident says government news about vaccine access isn't coming with crucial details about how to get it. Members are inquiring about the registration process, location of clinics, if home visits will be available, and much more.

For the moment Kaptyn can only point to the B.C. Government vaccine website, and phone app.

But some seniors may not have the technology readily at hand, or may not have the skills to use a computer or phone app. 

"Many are savvy, but many are not," Kaptyn told CBC's On the Coast.  "It's ageism."

In a statement to CBC News, the B.C. Ministry of Health said details of the Phase 2 rollout will be revealed on Monday.

Earlier this week, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry sought to assuage fears, insisting health care workers will reach out to seniors directly.

"There will be a whole variety of ways." Henry said.  "We recognize that not everybody who's over the age of 80 and living at home, in community, or independent living has the same access to things like the internet, a phone call or the ability to make those types of phone calls on their own. So we are tackling it from a number of different ways.

"We will be making it abundantly clear, and appealing to our community members, that if you have a family member or a friend who is struggling who doesn't know exactly where to go to find out the information, that you can support them as well."

Asian seniors advocate Michael Tan is calling for multicultural outreach and transation services during the vaccine rollout. Vancouver's historic Chinatown neighbourhood is the largest Chinatown in all of Canada. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Asian seniors advocate Michael Tan worries critical multicultural outreach will be lost without translation services.

"We're seeing there's a huge concern around ... racialized communities. Are they able to access the vaccine in a safe and timely manner?"

The vice-president of Chau Luen Society says some 1,900 Chinese seniors living independently in the downtown core have already faced language and accessibility barriers.

He described a recent vaccine clinic at the Carnegie Community Centre as a "gong show," claiming residents faced hours-long lineups in the rain and snow, and then struggled to communicate with nurses. Chinese-language speakers and translated materials weren't available.

"They're doing their best," Tan says, "But at the same time, not having the language skills to deal with residents in these neighbourhoods [is a problem]."

Tan is calling on Vancouver Coastal Health to provide a direct and coordinated response for Chinese seniors living in the downtown core.

With files from CBC's On The Coast


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