For many Massachusetts seniors most at risk of dying of coronavirus, a long wait for the vaccine

For many Massachusetts seniors most at risk of dying of coronavirus, a long wait for the vaccine


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Massachusetts seniors who live in subsidized housing are being moved up in line to get the coronavirus vaccine, while many of the elderly who live in their own homes are still waiting for word on when and how they will get theirs.

Lisa Gurgone, executive director of the senior advocacy group Mass Home Care, said it’s more efficient to vaccinate the elderly in subsidized housing “because that’s where the spread has been, and that’s where you can get a lot of people.”

Sheila Emerson, 74, and Shirley Hargrow, 77, both live in Roxbury apartments subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. They signed up last week at their 57-unit building, the Catherine Hardaway Residence, where they are scheduled to receive the vaccine on Friday.

“I’ve been patient,” said Emerson, who has bronchitis and asthma, which put her at greater risk from the virus. “It seemed like it was taking forever. It’s been a little rough knowing we had to wait so long and lose so many lives. I want to make sure I live a little longer so I can get to see my 19 grandchildren grow up.”

Hargrow also has underlying conditions — hypertension and a past stroke — that put her at greater risk. And although she’s glad that she’ll be receiving the vaccine this week, she worries for seniors who live in their own homes.

“How do you find out who lives where, except through Social Security?” she said. “It’s a little scary. They (the state) have to move a little faster. They better come up with some kind of plan for getting it to seniors who live by themselves in their own homes or other private housing.”

Elizabeth Monaghan, 67, is one of those seniors. She and her husband live alone in their Weymouth home. And although he has gotten the vaccine because he is a Tufts Medical Center mechanic in Boston, she has no idea when she will get hers, even though she has asthma and high blood pressure.

“The vaccine’s going everywhere else but for us,” she said. “I can see why people who live in close quarters would get it. But we’re forgotten about. We’re important, too.”

About 14% — more than 800,000 people — of Massachusetts residents are 65 or older, according to U.S. Census figures. And they are among those at greatest risk of contracting the virus and of dying, particularly if they have underlying conditions, according to health officials.

But as of Jan. 12, only 12,565 of those 50 to 69 years old and only 677 of those 70 or older had been fully vaccinated, according to state figures.

Julian Bond, 69, lives with his 64-year-old wife in their Weymouth home, but neither of them has received even the first of the two doses needed for full vaccination.

“The state’s trying their best,” Bond said, “but because there’s no major federal oversight, they can’t in my opinion do it fast enough.”

Kate Reilly, a spokeswoman for the state’s COVID-19 Response Command Center, said it is “actively working to build up an expansive vaccination infrastructure across the state.”

“As we move through each priority group in our phased distribution plan,” Reilly said, “we expect that seniors who live independently will have several options for vaccination, including from providers, pharmacies and mass vaccination sites.”