BOSTON – Gloria Clark of Malden, Mass., Woke up Thursday with one goal and one goal: to find herself an unvaccinated person over the age of 75.
She started with an ad on Craigslist, but the responses were slow, so she started knocking on doors. The 89-year-old, two doors down, was not interested. An 80-year-old neighbor wasn’t at home and usually took an afternoon nap, but Mrs. Clark was fearless.
“I’ll catch up with her tomorrow morning,” said Ms. Clark, 72, a retired high school math teacher. “I’ll find someone. I know I’m going. “
This week, Massachusetts launched a first experiment in the country, offering vaccinations to those accompanying people aged 75 and over to mass vaccination sites.
The plan aimed to alleviate access problems for older people, who have struggled to make online appointments and visit sports stadiums. Right away, he met criticism from state lawmakers and some public health experts, who said it could result in rare doses for healthy young people.
It also spawned an unusual online marketplace, as enterprising Massachusetts residents sought to forge caring relationships at full speed.
“I have a great driving record and a very clean Toyota Camry,” said one person in a Craigslist ad. “I can also pay $ 100 in cash. I am a nice conversationalist and will let you choose the music and show me all the pictures of your grandchildren!
A Boston-area graduate student offered “$ 200 and up for the privilege of transporting a Massachusetts resident to their first or second appointment for a vaccine.” Another ad mentioned that the trip to vaccination would be in a Lexus.
Other investigations have been made more delicately.
Jean Trounstine, an author and teacher who lives in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, said she received a phone call from a friend who asked if she could accompany him to an appointment for a vaccine. (Ms Trounstine is 74, it turns out not.) “I think she’s just going to look for 75-year-olds,” she said. “It blew me away.
On Wednesday Ms Trounstine heard about the accompanying show on the car stereo and ‘turned around’, as she put it, because it felt like yet another way for those with the resources to skip the line. .
“I am patiently waiting for the vaccine, I am not pulling any strings,” she said. “It’s just kind of a slap on someone like me, who’s not going to look for a 75 year old man.”
At a press conference Thursday, Gov. Charlie Baker admitted some were approaching the program opportunistically and warned older people to be wary of offers of help from foreigners.
“You should only contact someone you know or trust to bring you as a companion, be it a child, companion, spouse, neighbor or caregiver,” he said. “Don’t take calls or offers from people you don’t know well or trust, and never share your personal information with anyone.”
Public health experts have voiced differing views on the accompanying program, a concept that was not widely discussed prior to its deployment.
Andrew Lover, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, said the plan would speed up vaccinations by providing an “extra boost” to older people living alone.
“There is definitely potential for people to play with the system, but I guess it’s a reasonably small number,” he said. “The more people we can get vaccinated, the better, in the grand scheme of public health, and we’re more than happy to accept this problematic little fraction.”
Others were concerned that the policy would allow young and healthy people to be given limited doses.
“What worries me is that there are a lot of people in their 70s – 74 – who can’t get the vaccine, but there are 22-year-olds who are going to get it. Said Ashish Jha, Dean of Brown University School of Public Health. “I don’t know if I’ve seen big empty mega-sites because the old people didn’t show up. If that was the problem, it would be a good solution. “
There have also been complaints from lawmakers, who in a letter to Governor Baker called for a halt to the companion program, saying the system further amplifies the benefit of wealthy families with working cars. and free time. Meanwhile, vulnerable residents aged 65 to 75 found themselves further pushed back into the queue, said State Representative Mike Connolly, who represents parts of Cambridge and Somerville.
“There are people who say you can get $ 250 and a new toaster if you just let someone get you to get the shot,” he says. “I find it all really amazing, and I don’t think I’m alone.”
It wasn’t all criticism, however. Many people in their late 60s this week suddenly considered owning a golden ticket and discussed with each other which friend deserved or needed it most.
Margaret Bibbo, 66, church secretary and cancer survivor, had brought an elderly friend without expecting to be vaccinated herself, and when a doctor offered her an injection as a companion, she first refuse.
“I said, ‘I would love that, but I’m not going to jump in front of anyone,’ she said. “Her quote was, ‘You are just as important as anyone else – you took the time to bring this woman here without expecting the injection. We can take care of you. It was precious.
Upon returning home, she said, she was inundated with gratitude and relief.
“I was blessed yesterday, totally blessed,” she said.
For Ms. Clark, it made perfect sense. Her friends in long-term care have all been vaccinated, “but if you’re like me and you live in your home, you’re stuck.
At 72, she is healthy enough to drive some of her neighbors to colonoscopies and public spirit to work at the polls in special elections. “Someone is out there who needs help,” she said. “It’s just that they don’t know where to go.”
After long, gray months of waiting – “there are only a few things you can clean your house,” she remarked – the possibility of a change had pushed her into high gear.
“I look gorgeous, I’m wearing clothes today,” she says. “I’m heading to the Caribbean as soon as I’m done.”
Will wright contributed reporting from New York.