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Experience Inc. helping seniors with signups

The process toward herd immunity is moving slowly, but not for lack of effort on the part of local people who would like the COVID vaccine.

In Warren County, thousands of people are signed up for clinics that will happen some time in the future.

For more than a month, Experience Inc., the Warren-Forest Agency on Aging, has been offering to help seniors get signed up. They’re not able to skip anyone to the front of the line, but they can make sure people get on the list.

“We still get up to 50 calls every day related to vaccinations,” Executive Director Danell Sowers said. “During the last two weeks of January we were getting nearly 200 daily vaccination calls.”

“We are able to help those without internet access or computer savvy get on the waiting list that Gaughn’s Drug store created starting the week of Jan. 18,” Sowers said.

“We do this by taking their info and registering them in an online portal.”

“So far, AAA staff has taken calls and gone into the Gaughn’s online site to register 2,070 people for our waiting list,” Sowers said. “In addition, we have taken hundreds more calls to provide alternate resource information and to look people up on the waiting list in order to reassure them that they are indeed on the list.”

“Unfortunately, there has not been enough vaccine distributed to make a large dent in that list,” she said. So far, “225 people have gotten vaccinated from our waiting list.”

The process is generally handled on a first-come, first-served basis, but there is some accounting for those who didn’t have what it takes to get signed up on their own.

“Gaughn’s has an entirely separate waiting list of those who were able to do the online registration themselves and the rest of their allotted vaccine supply has been given to those phase 1A individuals,” Sowers said. “People from both lists are given appointments equally for the clinics when vaccine is available.”

Gaughn’s is not the only game in the region, and Experience Inc. can point callers to other entities.

“We are also able to give callers information regarding other phone numbers and websites available that offer vaccination appointments in the area if they don’t just want to be on the Gaughn’s waiting list,” she said. “Every entity offering vaccinations is now supposed to offer phone assistance for those who don’t have or use online methods.”

“In Forest County we worked with Emergency Management to help those without internet access or comfort using online applications get signed up for vaccinations that were coordinated for Forest County phase 1A residents at Clarion Hospital,” she said. “We did that project through our Marienville Senior Center.”

Most of those callers are part of Phase 1A – the current phase. All Pennsylvanians ages 65 and over have been part of that phase since the middle of January. Most of the people who call Experience Inc. for help are 65 and over.

“We have been extremely busy talking with people on the phone to help them get on a waiting list and reassuring them that as vaccine becomes available we will get to them as quickly as we can,” Sowers said. “We want to reassure them that we know they are out there and they wish to get vaccinated.”

Those who call Experience Inc. can speak with someone for help, or leave information to be put on a registry.

When the time comes for a registrant to go to a clinic, they get a call. It’s not quite as simple as arranging a time and date. “This process includes taking the time to complete another three page document over the phone with them that has to be submitted online on their behalf in order for them to receive their vaccination,” Sowers said.

The agency is also provided space for clinics.

“We have made the Allegheny Community Center available as a vaccination site and have hosted three clinics with another one scheduled this week,” she said. “We make four to six of our staff available at each of these clinics to assist the Gaughn’s staff who are administering the vaccine. There have also been several volunteers giving their time to help at these clinics and that has been invaluable.”

So far, the experience for Experience has been going smoothly.

There is only one major problem – “lack of available vaccine,” Sowers said. “It makes getting shots into arms difficult and the overall process is moving very slowly here, just as it is around the country.”

“We understand that our seniors, as a highly vulnerable group, are extremely concerned and desperately want to get their vaccination,” she said. “That is why we are doing our best to be available in person, take their names and try to provide reassurance when they call back in for updates.”

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