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Vaccine skepticism, transportation issues remain for unvaccinated Washingtonians 65 and older

About 25% of Washingtonians 65 and older still are unvaccinated for COVID-19. Addressing the reasons why is not a simple task.

As people continue lining up for their COVID-19 shots throughout Washington, one group is conspicuous in their absence: People 65 and over.

As of April 3, the Department of Health reported about 25% of those 65 and older still haven’t received at least one dose of the vaccine, though they've been eligible for nearly three months.

It's disturbing to health officials because that group makes up 84% of Washington's coronavirus deaths. 

"I think the main reason is a lack of ability to go out and get the vaccine," said Skagit County Health Officer Dr. Howard Leibrand.

The ability of seniors who aren't tech-savvy to make online appointments has been a major issue, along with finding a way for them to get to a vaccination site.

That's why Leibrand said it's increasingly important for pharmacies and clinics to bring vaccines to seniors themselves.

"We've had pharmacies and clinics proactively making phone calls, inviting seniors in, scheduling appointments, talking to them about why they might not want to get a vaccine, etc.," Leibrand said.

RELATED: Official: Biden moving vaccine eligibility date to April 19

However, getting seniors to their appointments remains a major obstacle.

While paramedics have been able to bring shots to nursing homes, those who live alone are often left out. They're forced to depend on neighbors or relatives who may not be around for transportation.

But access is only part of the problem. Some of the issues sit with seniors who simply don't trust the vaccine.

Some of them posted to KING 5's Facebook page when we asked people to explain why they have not been vaccinated.

One wrote, "just not interested." 

Another person called the vaccine "poison or should I say mark of the devil."

Still, others defiantly proclaim they won't be a "government lab rat."

Leibrand said it's important to counter vaccine skepticism with facts.

"In my 31 years of experience as a health officer, this is the safest and most effective vaccine that we have. The final testing and development have been faster but it's not because we cut corners. It's not because the testing is inadequate. It's because we cut red tape," Leibrand said. "I have taken this vaccine, along with my immediate family. I have no concerns about this vaccine at all."

The question remains, however, if roughly a quarter of the most vulnerable people in our population don't get vaccinated, what does that do to our ability to "flatten the curve" and reach herd immunity. 

"It shouldn't have an impact," Leibrand said. "If you have isolated seniors who are not willing to get the vaccine they're already protected a little bit by their isolation. It's unfortunate that they either choose to or are forced to remain isolated like that. We'd really like to see them get vaccinated."

The State of Washington has opened a hotline to help people make appointments: 1-800-525-0127

For people who do not have internet access, need language assistance, or have other barriers to online registration, the COVID-19 call center for Snohomish County is available between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at 425-339-5278.

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