LOUISVILLE, Ky. — As Kentucky continues to expand vaccine eligibility, many fear there are pockets of people left behind. For them, lack of mobility and access to technology can make booking an appointment challenging.
Seventy-year-old Ida Trent said she very easily could have been left behind too if it weren't for her loving son.
“I want to take care of her," Brian West, Trent's son, said.
Trent needed help scouring the Internet for an appointment.
“It was confusing for me," said Trent.
And when she finally got an appointment, she needed help getting there.
“I used to drive and all that but I don’t even drive no more," said Trent.
In early March, after looking for an appointment for his mother for about a month, her son made the hour and 20 minute drive with her to Lexington, where she got her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
“What additional resources do you think older people need to get that appointment," FOCUS investigative reporter Paula Vasan asked.
“I think they need a good social network," West said.
“It’s a major, major problem," Charlotte Whittaker, AARP Kentucky State President, said.
Whittaker lives about two hours southwest of Louisville, in the mostly rural city of Beaver Dam. Population: about 3,500. Their local pharmacy, now flooded with calls.
“They are having 150 to 200 calls a day to schedule an appointment," Whittaker said.
Nearly all of those calls, she said, are from older people without Internet. According to estimates from the Federal Communications Commission, 18 percent of people in Kentucky lack Internet. Whittaker said that disconnectedness is highest among the elderly, and in rural areas like Beaver Dam.
“A lot of seniors are not online, period. They don’t have smartphones, they don’t have computers," she said.
Whittaker is a volunteer at AARP, the largest nonpartisan group advocating for Americans 50 and over.
“We’re calling our neighbors we’re working with our churches. I know I contacted our radio station here and he’s been very active in giving out phone numbers to call," Whittaker said.
Since vaccine rollout efforts started ramping up earlier this year, getting the most vulnerable vaccinated first has been the priority. In our area, mobile units are bringing the vaccine to people where they live and work, an initiative health experts said has especially helped our elderly population.
“Our community is coming together," Whittaker said.
But there’s still more work ahead. In Kentucky, more than 30% of people over the age of 70 -- those considered most at-risk -- have still not been vaccinated, according to health data.
If you live or work in Louisville and you’re having trouble getting a vaccine, you can call the city’s COVID-19 Helpline.
Louisville Metro Dept. of Public Health & Wellness, COVID-19 Helpline: 502-912-8598
Kentucky’s COVID-19 Vaccine Website, vaccine.ky.gov, shows Kentuckians which phase they are in. You can sign up for notifications so state officials can communicate with you when doses become available at new and existing sites. Kentucky’s vaccine map lists regional vaccination partners statewide, so you can search your county or region and see how to schedule an appointment. Below the vaccine map, you can find additional vaccination sites at Kroger, Walmart and Walgreens stores, as well as independent pharmacies.
Kentucky’s COVID-19 Vaccine Hotline, 855-598-2246 or TTY 855-326-4654 (for deaf or hard-of-hearing Kentuckians), has the same features as the website. You can get assistance completing the vaccine eligibility questionnaire and scheduling an appointment when doses are available. The hotline is available 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST Monday through Friday.
Free or reduced-cost transportation to and from vaccination appointments is offered by public transit agencies across the commonwealth. According to Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear’s office, these services are operating in over 90 counties, covering 75% of all counties across Kentucky. You can find nearby transportation services by heading to kycovid19.ky.gov for a full list of participating public transit agencies and their phone numbers, or by calling the Kentucky COVID-19 Vaccine Hotline.