Members of disabled community struggle to get COVID shots as eligibility expands

Now that the coronavirus vaccine is available to all adult Americans, the Biden administration is working to make sure that everyone who wants a shot has access to it. But obstacles still remain for members of the disabled community and for those who are homebound. CBS News reporter Alex Tin joins CBSN's Lana Zak to discuss what's being done to reach these communities.

Video Transcript

LANA ZAK: With the coronavirus vaccine now available to all American Adults, the next step for the Biden administration is making sure that everyone who wants a shot can get one. The White House is looking to reach people who are disabled, homebound, or have transportation issues that Johnson & Johnson vaccine is expected to play a major role in that effort because it's single dose and doesn't require ultra-cold storage.

However, the recent pause on distribution and new blood clot warnings could complicate those efforts. For more, I'm joined by CBS News Reporter Alex Tin. Hi there, Alex. So what are some of the major challenges that the disabled community and homebound community is facing when it comes to getting the coronavirus vaccine?

ALEX TIN: Well, it is obviously a complicated and diverse picture. We could spend all day talking through the long list of potential issues that disability can play in preventing people or making it very difficult for people in order to get the COVID-19 vaccine they may want, but just to give you a sample.

Some of the issues that we've heard, we've heard for a long time around registering and scheduling your appointments. And that's everything from the fact that a lot of these websites, for example, there was a great Kaiser Health News and AIM analysis that came out a few months ago that looked at a lot of those early vaccine scheduling appointments websites and found that so many of them had either minor or major errors that made it very difficult for people who maybe are blind and rely on a system-- text readers to read out the websites to them that made it basically difficult or impossible to navigate those websites and book your vaccine appointments all the way to the actual way that vaccines are administered.

There are some people who obviously are homebound and cannot leave their homes. They can't travel to a big mass vaccination site at a stadium. And there are obviously ways in planning those vaccination sites that make it very important and very challenging at sometimes to have people with disabilities access their vaccine. And that comes down even to little things, like requiring the person to fill out their paperwork by hand, especially if they have disabilities that make it difficult to read or fill out that paperwork themselves.

LANA ZAK: So, Alex, how are states and local governments trying to overcome these barriers and trying to reach disabled communities or people who have, otherwise, difficulty accessing these vaccines?

ALEX TIN: Yeah, well, you've seen a whole bunch of efforts. Obviously, some of them have focused on the vaccination site itself. And that has been spending money and resources and effort and making sure that there are resources available at these vaccination sites that accommodate these disabilities. And that's everything from both the facility itself and the way the site is set up to the materials that you get when you get your vaccine.

Those warning sheets that you get explaining the risks that you have or explaining the v-safe app that they encourage you to sign up for. But in addition to the administration part, there's also the proactive part, which is going out and proactively trying to find and identify people who either are homebound and need the vaccine to come to them or otherwise have difficulties reaching a vaccination site or making that vaccination appointment and identifying ways to address that.

And we've heard a few of those this week. There was a big White House forum that was held with the Administration for Community Living in the CDC that focused on a lot of the state and federal ways that they're funding to try to address these short gaps. And that's everything from their adapting a hotline that's currently used to connect elder care with providers in order to be used for helping people with disabilities register for their appointments and book transportation to get there all the way to spending a lot of money on obviously retrofitting these sites, educating providers, and identifying all of these different ways that you can make it a lot easier for people who have disabilities or homebound in order to get their shot.

LANA ZAK: Alex, I want to talk to you a bit more about the J&J vaccine, because it was paused for 11 days. And as I mentioned earlier, this was a key tool for health officials who are trying to reach those communities that are particularly disadvantaged in their ability to get to some of these mass vaccination sites. How much has that pause delayed vaccination efforts, especially when it really comes to these communities?

ALEX TIN: Yeah, well, and you mentioned some of it in that intro, right? It's a single shot vaccine. It has much less rigorous temperature requirements than the Pfizer or Moderna shots in order to stay basically shelf stable. And it can go in the back of a van or go in a pick up truck and go out to these places where people need vaccine but maybe aren't able to travel to a vaccination site.

So the logistical advantages there are obvious, right? And you don't need to get those people to come back for a second dose, which we know we saw data today that shows that at least for some people, that's difficult, or at least, maybe not impossible, but difficult to do on time. And that's critical. We've heard from federal and state officials to getting people their vaccination appointments.

So obviously, there are logistical advantages. But when it comes to quantifying how much this issue is, obviously, not every Johnson & Johnson shot was going towards these programs to reach disabled and homebound people. But we do know that there was a lot of shots from Johnson & Johnson that was basically sitting on pharmacy and provider and jurisdiction shelves marked with Do Not Use, awaiting guidance for those 11 days.

We heard early warnings about it. The representative of states and local health officials told basically a CDC advisory committee way back when the pods first began that said, you guys need to make a decision now. We need to get this back into providers. It's going to impact our programs. And what we heard during that intervening time was it did. There was roughly 10 million shots that had been delivered but sat unused on provider shelves and jurisdiction shelves and are only now getting back into potentially arms and providers and syringes.

LANA ZAK: Yeah, and Alex, so it now has the OK to be used. But I'm wondering how much health officials are worried about vaccine hesitancy among people with disabilities or people who are homebound who are supposed to be getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine given that it was paused and given the warning now about rare but potentially serious blood clots.

ALEX TIN: Sure. I mean, obviously, that is an issue that is not unique to the homebound or disabled community. I mean, you're hearing that basically across the whole spectrum of people that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was really intended to potentially help as well.

I mean, again, think about it-- single shot vaccine. Think about the other populations that that could be a huge benefit for. For example, college students. A lot of young women, who are college students, who are in these demographics that state health officials thought, wow, you know, single-shot vaccine. We can go to these campuses, get a huge segment of these populations that often have been linked to outbreaks to more vulnerable communities to more vulnerable people, get all of these people vaccinated, really cut down on transmission. And obviously, there is a real concern now.

And you look at public opinion surveys around the Johnson & Johnson shot that confidence in the shot has really decreased. But again, we are going to hear both from the CDC and from local and state health departments, probably the same message we heard when they first resumed the shot, which is, look, we took a careful look at the risk. We paused it. We examined all of these potential cases related to the Johnson & Johnson shot.

And we think now, it is safe to use for most people. Here are the risks. It's a rare but serious side effect. And it's again, up to essentially you to make that determination. But you think that risk is worth it. And obviously the hope for most people, for most health departments and for most communities is that most people will, indeed, agree to take that risk and get the shot because, it is, again, so small-- so infinitesimal for so many people.

LANA ZAK: Alex, thanks so much for keeping our focus on making sure that everybody who wants a vaccine has, in fact, access to it-- appreciate having you on the show.

ALEX TIN: Thanks for having me on.