'They've been ignored': older people cared for at home face vaccine delays

Families describe their frustration at system that has left some people struggling to get Covid jabs

More than 2.5 million people over the age of 80 have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, NHS England has said. But the vaccine is failing to reach thousands of elderly people who receive care in their own homes, according to a provider, because they are too frail to travel to vaccination centres or fear catching the virus if they do.

The Guardian spoke to three people who have family members over 80 still waiting to be vaccinated.

‘It seems to be a postcode lottery’

“How on earth are elderly people expected to negotiate the system if they don’t have any help?” says Amanda Elliott, 59. Her father-in-law, George Elliott, 98, of Polegate, East Sussex, is still waiting to be vaccinated. “It seems very unfair,” she says.

George Elliott
George Elliott. Photograph: Amanda Elliott

George, who was a glider pilot in the second world war, doesn’t feel entitled to a jab but finds the situation “puzzling”, Amanda says. He has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), finds it very difficult to move and has a carer going into his home twice a day.

Amanda, a support worker at a school in Sutton, says George received a letter inviting him to book his vaccination online and “tried without success”. He then called to book over the phone and was offered an appointment in Brighton, Hastings or Petersfield, to which he would have difficulty travelling.

“I called the booking line on his behalf last week to find out what he should do as he is housebound. I was directed to his GP and his surgery told me they are not carrying out vaccinations and that I shouldn’t have contacted them about this. They were very unhelpful,” Amanda says.

Neither George nor his 80-year-old wife, who has Alzheimer’s and for whom George is a carer, have been vaccinated. “The worst thing is not getting any information,” says Amanda. “It seems to be a postcode lottery. They have been ignored by a system that seems to take no account of people who are housebound. My father-in-law carried out a number of daring missions during world war two. How sad that the country he fought for should abandon him now.”

‘We just want her to be vaccinated’

In Kirkcaldy, Fife, 88-year-old Christina McPhee, who is housebound, is still waiting to be vaccinated. “The district nurse has to administer the vaccine to those who can’t leave their homes, but the local GP practice told me last Friday they have none allocated for those in the area,” says her niece Mary.

McPhee has a tracheostomy and has carers and nurses visiting her several times a day, making her “very vulnerable” because she is high risk. Her sister, Mary’s mother, who is 82 and lives with McPhee, was able to get the vaccine because she could travel to the surgery, but there is no news about when McPhee is likely to receive hers.

“It seems obvious that they have vaccines in the surgery but for whatever reason can’t get them out to people stuck at home,” says Mary. “We thought the vaccine would give us a wee bit of peace of mind but it hasn’t yet. We just want her to be vaccinated.”

‘I was told I would receive a call back but I’ve still heard nothing’

In Bristol, Anne O’Brien, 81, a retired accounts clerk, is also having difficulties getting vaccinated. As soon as she heard details of vaccinations happening in her local area, she contacted her GP to try to arrange an appointment, but she doesn’t yet have one.

She was told three weeks ago she would receive a letter as soon as a slot was available. Since then, she says, she has followed up several times on the phone, and last week she was told she was still on a waiting list, leaving her feeling like she “was getting nowhere”.

“I’m very anxious to get the vaccine,” she says. “I keep wondering if the call has come through already on the phone and I’ve missed it, or if I’ve missed something else about it. I was told I would receive a call back, but I’ve still heard nothing.”

According to Anne’s son John, an added frustration for his mother is knowing that neighbours who are younger than her have their vaccination appointments booked already. “Her nextdoor neighbours, in their 70s, have received their official date,” he says. “Another person across the street is 73 and is booked in at the same GP surgery my mum is registered [with], which is confusing.”

Since moving to Bristol five years ago, Anne has been very active in her local community, joining social clubs and lunch clubs before the lockdown, and John is concerned about how the delay is affecting her. “The vaccine would mean she could think about starting seeing her friends again, getting out and about and enjoying her life. She loves company, so not having that has been bad for her. She’s been quite depressed about it.”


Rachel Obordo and Tobi Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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