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SFU research shows how seniors struggled with B.C.’s vaccine card rollout

November 09, 2021

Frustrated and anxious seniors needed help from community organizations to bridge the digital divide caused by British Columbia’s hasty rollout of the vaccine card.

The findings of a rapid evaluation project from Simon Fraser University’s Science and Technology for Aging Researching (STAR) Institute and 411 Seniors Centre Society suggest the B.C. government didn’t do enough consultation and provide enough support for seniors and older adults when it announced the BC Vaccine Card, a primarily digital proof-of-vaccination system, in September.

“The seniors we connected with are independent folks who are very capable but the way the government rolled out the vaccine cards has made them feel inadequate,” says Hannah Shin, a STAR community-based researcher, who conducted focus group discussions and one-on-one interviews with seniors. “The majority expressed that they felt frustrated and overwhelmed by the whole vaccine card process. For some older adults, their lack of digital literacy created a lot of anxiety and we learned that smaller organizations are having to pick up the pieces.”

The BC Vaccine Card is required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination for many social and recreational events, such as indoor dining, under public health orders.

It generates a QR code that can be scanned to verify a person’s vaccination status.

While most people register online and use their mobile devices to display the card, the government did offer registration over the phone and gave people the option to print the QR code if they didn’t have access to the right technology or needed assistance obtaining a card.

But the SFU-led evaluation, which connected with 514 seniors in the Vancouver area between Sept. 4 and Oct. 12, found many seniors were still confused and had trouble obtaining their card.

Those who received print-outs in the mail were baffled that it was just a QR code on piece of paper and not something more permanent and durable, like the BC Services Card.

Some seniors relied on community organizations like 411 Seniors Centre to help them get their card.

“We need to address the digital divide in all aspects of government policy and actions in order to ensure that all seniors are included,” says Marion Pollack, the board president of 411 Seniors Centre. 

Researchers say many of the seniors they spoke to remain concerned about their privacy and able any potential future changes to the system.

They recommend that seniors and community-based seniors service agencies be consulted for future rollouts, ensure information is accessible through traditional information sources (like TV advertisements and direct mail) to reach seniors who do not rely on digital technology and using more simple language to combat COVID-19 and vaccine passport misinformation. 

The project was funded by AGE-WELL, Canada’s technology and aging network. AGE-WELL is an innovative research hub for technology and aging that utilizes transdisciplinary approach to share knowledge and engage in various cutting edge research.