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Opinion: As seniors, our risk for COVID-19 is high but our chances of conveniently getting a vaccine are low

San Diego Union Tribune logo San Diego Union Tribune 1/21/2021 Walter Wickens
a person standing in front of a box: Registered nurse Arpa Davoudian watches as a nurse prepares a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. (Getty Images) © (Getty Images) Registered nurse Arpa Davoudian watches as a nurse prepares a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. (Getty Images)

Wickens is a retired diamond cutter and professional rugby player. He lives in Downtown San Diego.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States back in late February, I’ve watched as many people have limited their social gatherings, placed their gym memberships on hold and began working from home. Local restaurants have shuttered their doors — reopened with modifications — and closed down again. Some reopened for delivery and takeout. Others never will. However, not much has changed for me.

Due to underlying medical conditions, I’m not able to get out much these days, regardless of the ongoing pandemic. I also recently returned home from the hospital following a major back surgery that has limited my mobility and desire to venture out into my community.

My time in the hospital and the days surrounding the surgery were my first experience with the changes that the pandemic has brought to our world and the medical system. During my stay, I received COVID-19 tests to ensure I wasn’t a risk to the medical staff caring for me or performing my surgeries. Hospital COVID-19 protocol stated that guests were generally not allowed, so I had no visitors bearing gifts and goodwill post-surgery. The hospital was quiet and very safety-focused as cases continued to rise throughout the state of California. Once recovered, I was promptly discharged and sent home to mitigate any further risk of contracting COVID-19.

Years ago, I was a resident at the Potiker Family Senior Residence in San Diego. I’ve been involved with Serving Seniors for a very long time; it provided me opportunities for housing and nutritious meals at a time when I needed them most. My time at Potiker was very positive; I enjoyed bingo nights, crafts and other activities, special holiday dinners and the community that participated. The administrators and staff fought hard against senior isolation and loneliness for the residents living there, and I believe it paid off. However, the pandemic has thrown a wrench into everyone’s plans, creating a challenge to keep seniors connected and engaged. I no longer live at Potiker but look forward to my home meal deliveries from Serving Seniors. Many of the delivery drivers understand that they are more than just meal couriers; they provide kindness and human connection to a population that may rarely experience those interactions.

Because I am relatively homebound, I stress very little about contracting COVID-19 or the impact it’s had on my livelihood. The pandemic hasn’t stopped me from some of the things I enjoy doing indoors like collecting coins or connecting with family over the phone. I am hoping to recover quickly from my surgery, but that will take a few months. Once I’m fully recovered, I would like to be able to safely venture out into my community and see life get back to normal. Just like anyone else, I miss watching sports and am excited to see many leagues attempting to go on with adjusted schedules but am hopeful for normal times.

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If my doctors recommend I get vaccinated, I’ll be happy to do so. There are many seniors like me — with underlying health conditions or limited mobility — who spend most of their days at home with little interaction with others. However, I still urge these seniors to consider taking the vaccine once it becomes available. Transmission of COVID-19 can happen so quickly and easily between friends, family, home health nurses and delivery drivers even when all take the necessary precautions.

Finally, I urge state and local officials to consider working with organizations that employ nurses and other certified health professionals to distribute and administer vaccines to homebound seniors unable to travel to their doctors’ offices or local pharmacies to get the shot. Our exposure and ability to contract COVID-19 is still high, but our likelihood of someone providing a safe, convenient way to get a COVID-19 vaccine is not.

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

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