As families gather to celebrate the holidays, Central Florida’s Senior Resource Alliance has launched a new initiative to help prevent relatives from passing along COVID-19 to their elderly and vulnerable loved ones.

To encourage vaccination and booster shots, the nonprofit agency is providing free transportation to vaccination sites, coordinating appointments, running a vaccine information hotline and offering free senior daycare so caregivers can take time off to get their own vaccinations and booster shots.

“We know that when people congregate for the holidays, there is an additional risk of infection from being indoors and from being around other people,” said Karla Radka, president and CEO of the Senior Resource Alliance. “We want this to be a time of joy and celebration, and the vaccines and boosters can help ensure that our long-awaited reunions are safe for all.”

Funded by a $315,000 federal grant, the initiative aims to thwart the spike in COVID cases typically seen following holiday gatherings. This year, nationwide infections began rising even before Thanksgiving as colder temperatures sent people in more northern latitudes indoors.

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reports “substantial transmission” of the virus for Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Lake and Volusia counties, though the number of cases and hospitalizations remains low compared to last summer’s surge.

The Florida Department of Health reports that 89% of residents age 65 and over had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Dec. 2, but it’s unclear how many in that age group are considered fully vaccinated or have had a booster dose.

Nationally, the CDC reports that nearly 87% of seniors 65 and older are fully vaccinated, but only 48% have had a booster shot, now recommended for all adults due to waning effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines after six months. The federal agency says the risk of dying from COVID-19 is 90 times greater for people aged 65 to 74 than for those aged 18 to 29. For people ages 75 to 84, the risk is 220 times greater, and for those age 85 and older, the figure is 630 times more likely.

“We are doing everything we can to eliminate any barriers between seniors and caregivers and their vaccination or booster,” Radka said.

The Senior Resource Alliance is the region’s designated Area Agency on Aging — a liaison between the federal government and a network of local nonprofit partners providing meals, utility assistance, transportation, counseling and other aid for older residents of Brevard, Orange, Osceola and Seminole Counties.

Specifically, the new COVID-19 vaccination campaign has:

A dedicated counselor who can answer questions about vaccinations and provide science-based information on the side effects.

Assistance in locating the nearest vaccination sites, coordinating appointments for both initial doses and boosters or setting up at-home vaccinations.

Free adult daycare and transportation services allowing caregivers to take the necessary time away to get vaccinated themselves, protecting the elders in their care.

A telephone reassurance program that connects with seniors to ensure their well-being before and after their vaccination appointments.

For help, contact the Senior Resource Alliance by calling (407) 514-1800 or filling out a contact form here.