XENIA — Ohioans ages 65 and older are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, as the Ohio Department of Health has moved into Phase 1B of its vaccination plan. However, vaccine demand currently far outstrips the supply. For older adults who are already under stress and isolation, the speed of the vaccine rollout can be frustrating. Because of this, both Greene County Public Health (GCPH) and the Mental Health Recovery Board of Clark, Greene & Madison Counties (MHRB) are encouraging older adults to make a plan to get vaccinated, and to seek mental health care if they need to.
Melissa Howell, Greene County Health Commissioner, has experience with older adults who are concerned about vaccine risks.
“One in every six seniors I’ve spoken to has expressed fear or anxiety about leaving the safety of their homes to get vaccinated. It’s normal to have this reaction, which is why we’re working with MHRB to help seniors cope with these stressors,” she said.
Because COVID-19 poses specific risks to older adults, seniors may feel more isolated, more of a burden to their own families and less valued by society, compared to younger age groups, according to Dr. Greta Mayer, CEO of MHRB.
“We recognize the unique stressors that senior citizens face during the pandemic,” Mayer said. “Rules that are intended to keep them safe, such as closures of certain services or a shift to digital platforms, can further isolate seniors with limited mobility or limited access to technology. Seniors may have concerns about whether the vaccine is safe for them. Even with the vaccine available, traveling to or waiting at a clinic poses its own set of risks and challenges.”
Mayer added that she recommends the following tips for addressing vaccine- or pandemic-related stress in seniors:
Avoid misinformation about the vaccine and COVID-19 by consulting credible sources of information, such as the GCPH website, the COVID-19 call center (1-833-427-5634), or consulting your doctor. Connect with local senior centers about how older adults can interact with others safely. They may have virtual options and up-to-date information about COVID-19 resources.
Make a plan for getting the vaccine. All Greene County residents can receive notifications for when they become eligible for the vaccine by signing up at the GCPH website. Residents can also dial *211 to find transportation options or learn more about public services. Consult with trusted friends or family members about your plan.
Turn off the TV. Going the old-fashioned route by getting news from print sources or simply changing the channel can put a limit on exposure to negative or disheartening information.
Seek support from others, whether that means giving a family member or friend a phone call, reaching a friendly voice through the COVID-19 Careline (1-800-720-9616), Clark Greene Madison Warmline (937-662-9080), or establishing a relationship with a behavioral health specialist (find one at mhrb.org).
“It can be frustrating or disappointing to continue waiting for a vaccine, but there are things you can do to make the wait easier. Focusing on what we can control, such as registering online for the vaccine, or making a plan, or calling the COVID-19 Careline for information and support, can help us maintain a positive outlook and stay grounded in the present moment instead of worrying about what’s to come,” said Mayer. “Remember that it’s normal to feel anxious, stressed or nervous, and that help is available for everybody and every family. We’re here to support you, so please reach out.”
Anyone seeking additional information or support concerning COVID-19 or the vaccine can use the following resources:
Greene County Public Health – Visit www.gcph.info or call 937-374-5600 Monday to Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Ohio Department of Health COVID-19 Careline – Call 1-800-720-9616 any time 24/7
If you are in crisis and need immediate mental health support, call the free National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or text 4HOPE to 741-741 to reach Crisis Text Line. In the event of an emergency, always call 911.
For more information about mental health and substance use resources in Clark, Greene and Madison counties, please visit the MHRB website at www.mhrb.org.