LYNNWOOD — To get a COVID-19 shot the standard way, here’s what Abel Córdova and his caregiver would have had to do:
- Arrange transportation to accommodate his wheelchair.
- Wait up to 30 minutes for the ride to arrive.
- Travel to the vaccination site and wait for the shot.
- Catch a ride home.
“By then, he’s been in the chair for at least an hour and a half, maybe longer, and he’s in pain,” said Heather Morrill, who provides in-home care for Córdova.
Instead of making the stressful trek, Córdova — whose right side was paralyzed by a stroke several years ago — got a house call this week.
A two-man team from South County Fire Station 10 administered the first dose of Pfizer vaccine to the 63-year-old Lynnwood man in his own bed.
“There you go,” said Kim Sharpe, the emergency medical technician who slipped needle into arm. “It’s that quick, and you’re done.”
From a public health perspective, COVID-19 vaccination is a numbers game aimed at getting the most people vaccinated as quickly as possible. That’s especially important now, as more infectious variants are propelling a fourth wave of infections across Washington.
But many health departments are also stepping up efforts to administer vaccines individually to people who aren’t able to leave their homes or have great difficulty doing so.
“I know it’s not efficient to go door to door, but this is a very vulnerable segment of the population,” said Leo Zipp, who began searching in early February for someone to vaccinate his 102-year-old mother in her Beacon Hill home. She can’t walk and hasn’t left the house for more than a year.
It was early April before a mobile vaccination team finally scheduled her first shot.
“We’re happy that it worked out,” Zipp said. “I know my mom isn’t the only one out there who needs this type of care.”
Since launching its in-home vaccination program in early April, the Snohomish Health District has administered shots to 188 people, 128 of whom are fully vaccinated. Public Health — Seattle & King County announced its program last week and has so far vaccinated 48 people in their homes.
Kitsap Public Health has identified about 3,000 residents who might need in-home vaccination and plans to mail them postcards explaining how to arrange their shots, said spokesman Tad Sooter. Pierce and other counties have similar initiatives.
Snohomish County started reaching out to homebound individuals after mobile vaccination teams from local fire departments finished their initial, priority push to vaccinate residents of group homes, senior housing complexes and other settings where clusters of vulnerable people live, said spokesperson Kari Bray.
“Then we started looking at what’s next for the mobile teams and focused on people who just don’t have a way to access health care outside of their homes,” she said.
Mass vaccination sites remain the health district’s primary emphasis, but it was clear that some people could never make it to a drive-through or even a pharmacy or clinic.
Patients are referred by family and caregivers, and the health district reaches out to senior organizations and community groups, Bray said.
“We’re really focused on people who are homebound by necessity,” not those for whom leaving home is just an inconvenience, she stressed.
King County’s guidelines specify that the service is for people “who have an injury, developmental disability, or medical condition that makes it difficult to leave the home and would require considerable and taxing efforts to get vaccinated outside the home.”
“If anyone has a reason they cannot get out to get a vaccine, I suspect we can find a way to get it to them,” Capt. Joe Root, public information officer for the Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority, said in an email. “Scheduling is the issue, and we are trying to be as efficient as possible at this point.”
The King County home-vaccination teams are made up of nurses and EMTs from a program focused on helping reduce the risk of falls and other injuries, so it’s a good fit, Root added.
Vaccinating isolated seniors may seem like a minor contribution to reducing the spread of the coronavirus, but it can have a big impact on extended families, said Zipp, whose clan includes 13 brothers and sisters and their children.
They’ve been conscientious about minimizing the number of people their mother comes in contact with. Once she gets her second shot, the grandkids can start visiting again.
“We’ll be a little bit more relaxed about having family time,” Zipp said.
Córdova, whose stroke cost him his job as a contractor and his passion for playing classical guitar, said he’s looking forward to a little more freedom and maybe a few more visitors.
“He’s a brand-new grandpa, so his being vaccinated will help us all feel a little bit easier about things,” said his wife, Wendy Córdova. “I’m hoping this encourages other people who are stuck at home to call and get their vaccination.”
More information and scheduling for in-home vaccination is available from county COVID-19 call centers, including in Snohomish County, 425-339-5278; King County, 206-477-3977; Pierce County, 253-649-1412; and Kitsap County, 360-728-2219 for English, 360-728-2218 for Spanish.