Mar. 2—NEWBURYPORT — The COVID-19 vaccine may be hard to find these days but local Councils on Aging are doing everything they can to keep their seniors in the loop.
Paula Burke, the director of the Newburyport Council on Aging, said she and her staff are focusing on getting people 75 and older to a vaccine clinic whenever they can find one.
"We have been recruiting volunteer drivers who can take people to whatever vaccination site they can secure an appointment at," Burke said. "Personally, I feel like things have gone a little too quickly and the state really opened the floodgates about two weeks ago when they added people 65 and older. This is a very large group and it is somewhat undefinable. We had barely nailed down the 75-plus."
Burke said Newburyport senior citizens can call the council at 978-462-0430 to get preregistered for a vaccine clinic or they go to the Friends of the Newburyport Council on Aging Facebook page at www.facebook.com/FriendsofNewburyportCOA/ for more information.
"The phone rings, all day long," Burke said. "We encourage family members or cohorts to call us and we will give them every piece of advice that we can."
Beth Israel Lahey Health, which owns Anna Jaques Hospital, has been using the Newburyport Senior Community Center to hold vaccination clinics for members of its network who are age 75 or over, while Burke and her staff have been making use of Northern Essex Elder Transport to get seniors to their vaccination appointments elsewhere.
"They have been instrumental in getting people to appointments during this time," Burke said. "But there are multiple layers to all of this. You need to secure the appointment, then you need to get them there and then you will need to do that probably twice because this is normally a two-dose vaccine."
The Amesbury and Salisbury Councils on Aging joined forces to host a vaccination clinic for over 500 seniors at Holy Family Parish in Amesbury on Feb. 12. People vaccinated at that clinic are expected to receive their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Friday, March 6.
Amesbury sent out a survey to its senior citizens asking them to preregister for potential vaccinations earlier in the year.
"We put it out in a survey, we put it in our newsletter, we have it on our website," Amesbury Council on Aging Executive Director Doreen Arnfield said. "We also had it on Facebook and I sent out 3,000 robocalls."
Arnfield said she and her staff have been working from a list of senior citizens provided by the city clerk's office to make sure they take care of everyone.
"We are pretty confident that we have everybody," Arnfield said. "We tried to get as many people as quickly as possible but we will probably backtrack and look at the census list as well. We will also try to work with the Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and the North Shore to make sure that there isn't anyone left."
Arnfield said people can call the Amesbury Council on Aging at 978-388-8138 to preregister for a vaccination.
"People are calling all day long," Arnfield said. "We have hundreds of calls. They are calling us directly or their family members or caregivers are calling. We are trying to reassure people."
Arnfield also said the Amesbury Council on Aging has approximately 3,000 people registered for a vaccination clinic.
"A lot of them have already been vaccinated when we call them," Arnfield said. "I know there has been frustration but there is a surprising amount of people who have already been vaccinated. There are some who haven't been but we will just chip away at that. It will probably take all year to do it."
Salisbury Council on Aging Executive Director Liz Pettis has also been preregistering her seniors for future vaccination clinics and said she has roughly 160 ready to go at a moment's notice.
"As soon as we are aware of a local clinic, we will be doing mass sign-ups, just as we did for the one in Amesbury," Pettis said. "But, as of right now, we don't know if there's going to be another vaccination clinic. We also tell our clients that, if they can find availability somewhere else like Stop & Shop or even if they feel comfortable enough going down to the (DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Boston North Shore) in Danvers, please take advantage of it."
Pettis also said seniors in Salisbury can call 978-462-2412 to preregister for a vaccination clinic.
"If you get a busy signal, just keep trying," Pettis said.
Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.
NUMBERS TO KNOW
Newburyport Council on Aging: 978-462-0430
Amesbury Council on Aging: 978-388-8138
Salisbury Council on Aging: 978-462-2412