University of Iowa students help members of local senior center sign up for vaccine

Student interns at the Iowa City Senior Center are helping older Iowans sign up for their COVD-19 vaccines.


Grace Smith

Senior Center Coordinator, LaTasha DeLoach, poses for a portrait outside of The Center Senior Center in Iowa City on Monday March 1, 2021. DeLoach coordinated an outreach phone bank at the Senior Center where they schedule vaccine appointments for older community members.

Lily Rosen Marvin, News Reporter

As more vaccines become available to older Iowans, University of Iowa student interns at the Iowa City Senior Center have become a resource for older adults navigating the process.

Johnson County is currently vaccinating people in phase 1B, which includes K-12 teachers, first responders, and Iowans 65 and older. Although vaccine appointments opened for Iowans in phase 1B on Feb. 1, health officials warn that it could take weeks or even months to fully vaccinate the group. Older Iowans who aren’t digital natives may face barriers if they don’t know where to look online for an appointment or if they don’t have a close relative to help them schedule an appointment.

In recent weeks, student interns at the Iowa City Senior center have become a resource for seniors as they navigate a complicated and decentralized appointment system in hopes of getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

The Center Senior Center is seen in Iowa City on Monday March 1, 2021. (Grace Smith)

Senior Center Coordinator LaTasha DeLoach said her staff recently participated in an outreach campaign to help get Senior Center members signed up for vaccine appointments. She gave senior center interns a list of names and numbers to call.

“The role that we played was really just getting people that information,” said Paisley Meegan, UI senior and student intern at the Senior Center. “We are able to make calls to people and sign them up for their vaccine. Everyone was super thankful for that and I think it’s also difficult to navigate the internet portion of [signing up] and the technology portion. I think it helps to walk through the process with people.”

Meegan said she was able to help seniors schedule their appointment and answer the COVID-19 screening questions, provide them with information about transportation to vaccination sites, and ensure they know the social distancing protocols for their appointment.

The senior center is one of several facilities that is helping with COVID-19 vaccination appointments for seniors who don’t have the resources to search various online avenues to find an appointment. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced the launch of a COVID-19 vaccination information website. It won’t allow Iowans to make appointments directly on the site but can connect people with area providers. By March 8, Reynolds said the state will launch a 211 number for Iowans over the age of 65 to call to receive assistance scheduling vaccines and finding information.

She added that, while several members she called didn’t answer, she was able to assist one of the seniors in scheduling their vaccine who wouldn’t have otherwise been able to.

“That was really great, and the person that I scheduled had no idea how they would have gotten their vaccine, so they were super excited,” Meegan said.

University of Iowa Student, Paisley Meegan, poses for a virtual portrait on Tuesday, March 2, 2021. Meegan, as well as Teaching Assistant, Julie Sands, are student interns at The Center Senior Center located in Iowa City. (Grace Smith)

UI social work practicum master’s student Julie Sands, who interns at the Senior Center and assisted with the vaccine outreach, said younger family members can help their older relatives by looking for vaccine appointments for them.

“It’s just basically being willing to help when someone asks,” Sands said. “Help if family members or friends who are of the older generation ask the younger generation.”

DeLoach added that younger people can help their older relatives get the vaccine by researching any opportunities they hear about to make sure they are not scams.

“Check it out first before sending [vaccine information] to an older parent or older family member. And check in on them after they have the vaccine,” she said. “Just give them a call and make sure they’re OK because that second dose is kind of a whammy on folks. I mean just checking on people — that’s the biggest thing that during this pandemic we’re trying to tell folks is to do.”

Meegan said people should reach out to older adults in their life, especially if they come across vaccine information. She added that for her, helping older community members get their vaccines was a gratifying experience.

“I think there are so many people who need the vaccine and I think, specifically with the older adult population, COVID-19 has really impacted their lives,” she said. “I think that having the vaccine, or at least having an appointment to get the vaccine, is like some light at the end of the tunnel.”