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'I Feel Pretty Alone Right Now': Residents Over 65 That Are Homebound Are Struggling To Get Vaccinated

UPLAND (CBSLA) — California has now given out more than eight million COVID vaccines, but those who qualify to receive a shot but are homebound say they have been left behind.

"I have multiple sclerosis. I am wheelchair-bound," said Gary Degalla. Degalla lives alone in Upland. He has caregivers who come in, but otherwise, he is homebound.

"And here I sit, and I can't leave the house," he said. Not even for a COVID vaccine. Degalla's home caregivers have not been able to get him one.

"It really feels like no one gives a damn," he said.

If Degalla was in a nursing home, he would already be vaccinated. But since he is cared for inside his home, he is still waiting.

Vickie Mays, a professor of health policy and management at UCLA, says in lower-income communities, many medically fragile and elderly residents are being cared for in the home, instead of at a long-term care facility.

"When you start going into racial and ethnic minority communities, Black and brown communities, they do not have the insurance plans, they don't have the resources," Mays said.

The State Department of Public Health says help is on the way. When Blue Shield of California takes over the state's vaccination effort on March 1, it will be required to contract with providers in all 58 counties to offer in-home vaccinations.

"I don't think the community wants to wait until March 1. There are a lot of promises of "when blue shield..." and I don't think the community is convinced we will suddenly have a perfect setup," Mays said.

Mays says it would be beneficial for the state to get more doses to neighborhood clinics. The same clinics that offer in-home care to at-risk residents like Degalla.

"They know them," Mays said. "That person is going to be much more comfortable with them, in terms of you're going to be able to go into the home. You're going to have health care providers who speak the language."

Degalla does not believe he would survive if he came down with COVID.

"I think it's a death sentence for me," he said. "And I feel pretty alone right now."

The State Department of Public Health said that it will work with medical and the state's in-home supportive services to identify people who are homebound and need a vaccine. They say they will work with advocates to make sure they are getting to the right people.

The L.A. County Department of Public Health released a statement Thursday that said:

"This issue is extremely important to Public Health.  Programs are currently gearing up to specifically address vaccinating homebound seniors with limited transportation options and limited mobility.  However, vaccine scarcity continues to be the #1 obstacle to achieving our vaccination goals.  We hope this will improve in the coming months and we are cautiously optimistic.

In the meantime, please see some of our high-level plans below:

As the vaccination program continues, we are looking at strategies that improve access to vaccine for people who are older with limited mobility and needing assistance securing appointments. We are organizing mobile teams to bring vaccinations directly to seniors living in housing developments or accessing senior centers in our hardest-hit communities. These will come on board as soon as vaccine supply improves at the federal level.

The state has announced that in the next several weeks the vaccination effort statewide will be coordinated by a 3rd party administrator, Blue Shield of California.  We look forward to working with Blue Shield and the State to ensure that we have an efficient and effective vaccine distribution system that meets the needs of our communities.

During and after this transition, public health's website – VaccinateLACounty dot com and VaccunateLosAngeles punto com – will remain a portal for the latest information about COVID-19 and the vaccine, and this website will also link people to the statewide appointment registration system."

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