In Search of the Shot

Public health officials say the supply is growing and will meet demand in several months, but, for now, readers’ experiences show how access is limited

Too little covid vaccine and too great a demand: That’s what KHN readers from around the country detail in their often exasperating quest to snag a shot, although they are often clearly eligible under their local guidelines and priority system. Public health officials say the supply is growing and will meet demand in several months, but, for now, readers’ experiences show how access is limited. Some savvy readers report no problem getting in line for the vaccine, but others say that balky application processes and lack of information have stymied their efforts. Their unedited reports are a good snapshot of the mixed situation around the country.

Tale of the Day – Feb. 25

I parent a grandchild. I worked in IT for 10 years, so understand its blessings and challenges. Our state online sign-up system is very poorly designed, and our vaccine allotment from the state is miniscule. (Not Seattle area, of course!) Communication of availability is practically nonexistent. I have been qualified thru 1b since mid-Jan. I am listed in every possible system including Kaiser, my provider. I’ve tried calling help phone numbers at all hours, waited on hold for hours, dropped unceremoniously. I’ve even stood in line at a local hospital where they might have vaccine if appts don’t show up, each time to no avail. Last week some enterprising young techies designed an easy-to-follow website that collects and coordinates every vaccine location, sign-up site in the state and lists availability. I live 2 miles from a major drive-up site. 15-20 times daily I use that new website, and NOT ONCE has there been ANY availability within 50 miles! Lastly, Kaiser is no help — sending us to the awful state site. My entire CO family, 3 younger sisters, 79 yr-old stepmom and 94 yr-old dad in Mem Care have all received 2nd shots. First time I am sorry to live in WA. Sigh.— 73-year-oldVancouver, Washington

Feb. 25

I’m 62, just under the 65+ limit. I have stage 3C recurrent male breast cancer, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. One would think that is enough to get a shot. I need to get the vaccine soon so that I can start 6 months of chemotherapy and radiation, during which I’ve been told the vaccine probably won’t be effective. I thought I was lucky working part-time for a college as a baseball coach, which puts me in an eligible category, but now the severe weather is slowing down delivery of vaccine even more. I have a daughter who is the city emergency manager where one of the super-pods are located. One would think the little bit of inside info I get would help me get the shot, but no. So, I sit at my computer with all of the chain drugstore’s websites open, with Othela’s website open, with Kaiser’s open, and with Hoag’s open. I think I’lI check all of the supermarkets and small local pharmacies too. I check my email regularly to see if I’ve been given an appointment. I’m not giving up, but soon I will need to start chemo.— Laguna Woods, California

Feb. 24

I have been trying for weeks. I’m 77 with diabetes and can’t get an appointment. I have signed up wherever they let me and check sites multiple times a day. This is so frustrating and I’m ashamed to say the effort makes me cry. I want to give up. I’m so afraid of getting covid and dying before I can get the vaccine. I live alone. It’s difficult wanting so bad, knowing it’s out there and will save your life but you can’t get access.— Chicago

I had been stressed and worried for almost a year. After reading about Wuhan in the NYT I knew we were all in for trouble. My husband is a healthcare provider in the beautiful Outer Banks in North Carolina and I also work in his office. My husband absolutely refused to close his practice even though the OBX was literally flooded with tourists escaping COVID-19 restrictions. Thankfully, with very strict masking and cleaning protocols no one in our office got sick. Some of our patients were not as fortunate. As soon as our state started shipping the vaccine to local health departments, I contacted the county COVID hotline and emailed the public health director. Even though we are independent from the local hospital, we were vaccinated in January and received the Moderna booster in February. I feel like a huge weight is off of my shoulders and I no longer fear my husband will not make it to retirement in a few years. Dare County Public Health Director, Dr. Sheila Davis, will have my eternal gratitude for her tireless work educating the public and efficiently vaccinating our county.— 59-year-oldKill Devil Hills, North Carolina

Fresno County has done a wonderful job! I did spend a day checking my computer for appointments to open up! Got our shots at the fairgrounds. They then scheduled the next shot for same time three weeks later! Brilliant! I’m 66 and my husband is 67.— Fresno, California

Feb. 22

I had ovarian cancer, an autoimmune disease and or comorbities. I registered in my state, never heard anything. I have been trying on the local pharmacy site. Every day it says no appointments available. My mother is 73 with breathing issues, has tried the same and nothing. My middle aged neighbor with no health issues just received her second vaccine. She works for federal agency and said it is supposed to be for those going into office, but she doesn’t go it (which she acknowledged) but said she was allowed to take advantage of it, so she did. I don’t begrudge federal workers getting it, but I think it should have been limited to essential workers and agency heads.— 48-year-oldVirginia

I am 83 years old, among those most-at-risk of death from Covid, and I have not touched another human being since March 14, 2020, when I left my tennis friends in Florida and returned home to Silver Spring, MD. I wear a mask, isolate and practice frequent hand-washing. But when vaccines were first offered in MD in December, I was shocked to find that a 100-year-old person with co-morbidities could not get a shot under the prioritization rules at the time. Calls to my State Senator were met with ain’t-that-too bad jokes! When, after weeks and much criticism, the CDC changed recommendations to include over-75s, I was able, after much calling around, to get an appointment by going over-50-miles away from my home location. I am a Kaiser Permanente member, and KP had been telling people that registering on its Website was the best way to help them get in touch when we qualified. I have been so-registered for decades, but had heard nothing. KP’s Website info seemed to change daily, and at one point they had said that they were going to finish vaccinating 1A before 1B (my group, in which over-75 was first). Finally, KP phoned me to make an appointment, and I canceled the other one because KP knows me, has all my records, and could best deal with it if I had a reaction. I finally got Pfizer shot 1 on Feb 2 (delayed a few days by snow) and get the follow-up next week. I feel very, very lucky that there was a shot, to have gotten a shot, and to have had two options, but don’t think that ignoring age was the right approach from the CDC to begin with, or from the State of Maryland, for that matter. — 83-year oldSilver Spring, Maryland

I feel like the successes get no love. I am 73, waited patiently for the opportunity to open up, and jumped on my computer that morning. I had to drive a ways (a pleasant diversion) but when I got there (Santa Cruz, CA. Summit Healthcare), they were organized, on time, very polite and got the job done. I could not be more pleased. Getting #2 on 3/9/21.— 73-year-oldSan Mateo, California

I signed up for the vaccine in Virginia early Jan. via the Virginia Dept. of Health. I did not receive any verification or further information from VDH until, believe it not, Tuesday of this week, Feb. 16. That message said my name was received, please be patient, it may take “weeks and months.” I am eligible through my interaction with patients as an employee of a specialty pharmacy (1a), and I am also eligible in some Virginia counties (though not mine of Warren) because I am HIV+ (1b). Daily I go at noon when the Warren Co. Health Dept. vaccine sign up refreshes, but I have not been able to get an appointment. Right now the page says they are only vaccinating for 2nd doses. They have not had 1st doses available since Feb. 12, a week ago. On average, the county has about 2 days a week they can do 1st doses; otherwise, they are just booking 2nd doses. There is no other information, nor is there any other way to contact anybody involved here. I have called all the numbers listed but they just say they are “experiencing high volume” and hang up on me. So I just go everyday around noon and refresh the page and see if they are taking new appointments. The few days they are, my browser locks up and by the time I can see the page, it says the doses are full. I am also a patient at the Infectious Disease clinic in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., and have emailed my doctor there. But despite their having doses, she cannot give me any because I am NOT a D.C. resident. That is frustrating on so many levels. Makes me feel if I’d gone to a VA doctor for my HIV I may have gotten a vaccine by now. What is the point really of being part of that clinic if they cannot help me in this time of crisis? So that sums it up.— 48-year-oldLinden, Virginia

Feb. 19

On February 12, I read about CVS offering COVID vaccinations at selected pharmacies in certain states. I immediately jumped onto their website and was able to secure appointments for myself and my 99-year-old father. We got our first dose three days later at a nearby CVS and have our appointments for the second dose. The entire process was simple and relatively speedy. My dad would have been content to wait for the vaccine, but the opportunity availed itself because I was prepared to get him registered as soon as I found out about CVS offering appointments. This may seem obvious to some, but if you are in a position to help elderly family members and friends who cannot access the Internet or are uncomfortable navigating websites and registration processes, get their insurance information, driver’s license or state-issued ID number and last 4 digits of their SSN so you are prepared to make the appointment on their behalf. This information may or may not be required, depending on which organization you are contacting, but if it is, you’ll be ready.— 66-year-oldSan Ramon, California

I signed up as a 1A in Ely Minnesota on 1/29/21 and have not yet received a vaccine while many other people here have called and told to come in. Vaccine administration appears to be following a “who you know” rollout here in Ely. My question is, who is monitoring this and why are essential workers overlooked while young folks without comorbid conditions are able to get them?— 52-years-oldEly, Minnesota

No getting back to me. All slots are full, no email back to confirm anything.— 79-year-oldFlint, Texas

The JAB Bingo Game 2021: You do need to have your Medicare number, but in most cases, you won’t have to provide your Social Security number or Insurance Group number, but bet your last nickel, you will need to give them the RX Bin number, which you will find on the backside of the card you misplaced in your wallet or purse. NOW as a brilliant American with all your multidisciplinary skills, you approach this game with all the talents of Monopoly. THE TRICK: you need as many web sites as possible to even win, so keep thinking as you enter the first step: Find WHO HAS SUPPLY First, not knowing which clinical provider or major pharmacy you may be located within 50+ miles of, will not cost you points, but think of the local grocery store and start there. While holding your various insurance cards, see if you can recall a pharmacy near the frozen food section? THEN, if you have been able to register for or get on the list or even maybe to be so lucky as to have secured an appointment for THE JAB, then you know you are on the way to winning. YOU are going to get that appointment, and you will get into a line, and there will be supply at your local pharmacy or grocery store, but you have to keep playing. GET ON AS MANY LISTS AS YOU CAN because the only way, you’re going to Win at JAB BINGO, is to play the new game in town. I got my first JAB, and it only took being on 4 lists, one cancellation, and a reschedule! BINGO! If all else fails: Just call — tell them you’re a senior without a computer!— 66-year-oldHuron, Ohio

Feb. 18

Not being a member of myHealth Stanford, I created an account and scheduled an appt. for mid-March. I then found a county agency where I was able to make a “request” for an appt on 2/8. I didn’t get confirmation for that, so I emailed them on 2/8 inquiring about it, but went anyway and received a shot. That night I got an email saying they were looking into my request and would get back to me. At 11:02pm 2/11, I received an email that I was confirmed for a shot on 2/12 at 3:00pm. Obviously, I did not go to get another shot. After I received my first shot, I went back to the Stanford site to cancel my appt., but they have no record of me having an account with them. Let’s see what happens when I go to get my second dose. Does not inspire confidence in our systems.— 65-year-oldEast Palo Alto, California

Initially it was crazy trying to get a shot anywhere in the Galveston/Houston area. On January 28th the Galveston County Health District and the UTMB health system opened an online registration system. It was clean and easy. We both received our shots within 2 weeks after registering. The shot locations were well organized and efficient.— 67-year-oldTexas City, Texas

My wife and I are 70 and 75 (King County Phase 1B1). We have been trying since first availability was announced to book an appt. without success. Almost as frustrating is the poor quality of information available and clumsy websites at Federal, State, local, and provider level. It would greatly improve the delivery of health care if availability information was more centralized, and finding appointments involved LESS personal choice as to location. By this I mean allow a search within 5 miles of a zip code instead of searching individual providers.— 70-year-oldSeattle, Washington

Site gets overwhelmed, totally freezes — jams, then you’re out of luck. Period. There must be a better way!! I’m trying to get the appointment for my 97-year-old mother in law. I’ve submitted my concerns, but to no avail.— Washington

At 72, I received my first shot of the Moderna vaccine on 2/12/2021 and coincidentally got a call from the VA on the same day to come in for a shot. At 68 my wife has been unable to schedule her shot. Interesting I had a choice of Pfizer or Moderna. Chose Moderna because there was no mixing and less chance of spoilage with a lower refrigeration temperature. Received shot at Safeway/Kroger and scheduled second shot within an hour at same time & location for March 12.— Green Valley, Arizona

I am a foreign resident in Ecuador 10 years. I speak Spanish and know the ropes but as far as I can tell, there is no provision made at all for taxpaying U.S. residents outside the U.S. I have talked with a State Dept employee acquaintance who runs the health unit at the U.S. Embassy in Quito — she knows nothing. She did tell me all offices are virtual for State Dept offices around the world! Now what? My home state is Oregon.— 80-year-oldTalent, Oregon

I received my first dose after weeks of trying. Now I am getting various procedures on how to get the second dose. I am told to contact the Austin Public Health Dept, that doesn’t work. Then I am told to get it wherever I can, trying that doesn’t work because many other places said no we only give second dose to the people we gave first dose to. Emails aren’t working, phone calls aren’t working, Too many different procedures per different HUB’s giving the vaccine. I am 76 with coronary artery disease, am about ready to give up. Maybe I should try to call the City Manager or Governor. Anything you do to help me?— 76-year-oldBuda, Texas

On 2/9/21 my wife and I both spent over 8 hrs dialing and redialing a hotline for an appointment to get her the shot. Finally she got through, waited another half hour on hold, and made the appointment — and all went well afterward. But we both spent most of the day doing nothing but trying to dial. I suggest phone based systems give each caller an option to either wait on hold with a place in the queue or preferably opt for a call back with the same place in the queue. That way callers can make the most of the time they might otherwise be tied up trying to call in. The call-backs could be automated to speed up the process for phone reps. Online registration for appointments can be very efficient, but phone access is helpful or indispensable for seniors and poor people without online skills or access. — 69-year-oldSan Antonio, Texas

Mine is the best kind of story. Mid-January I received an email from Greater Baltimore Medical Center where I see my primary care provider offering me the vaccine since I’m over 75. I was able to make an appointment right then and there. As I write this, it’s February 12. I just had my second shot and am waiting through the observation period before I go back home. Words cannot express how grateful and humbled I am for my good fortune.— 76-year-oldBaltimore, Maryland

My wife and I are age 73, in good health, and live in Duval County, Florida (Jacksonville Beach). The county had only one site open to those over 65, and the only time one could register for an appointment was at 5:00 on Thursday. Naturally, the website was overwhelmed by 5:01, and even if one was lucky enough to make it to the registration screen, after entering all one’s information, one found that all the appointments were already taken as the site was open only from 9-5 on M-F. This system was replaced by another system where one called a phone number and left one’s phone number for a call back. The call back came from a phone number that my cell phone identified as a potential scam. Fortunately, I answered it anyway and was able to make an appointment for my wife and me. My wife didn’t receive her call until a week later. We had our first shot, but instead of scheduling our second shot, the county said “they’ll call us.” Still waiting. for that second call.— Jacksonville Beach, Florida

Colorado 65+ eligible February 8. I had created previously our patient accounts at the 4 healthcare organizations serving northern Colorado and had us also on county information website. At 12:05am on 2/8, I checked our records at all 4 portals to be sure they had our information. Tuesday evening 2/9 at 6:45pm we received an email from one organization to go to our portal and sign up in the next 48 hours or we’d drop to bottom of list. We signed up in 5 minutes, taking first available date and time slot on 2/18 noon. We were automatically scheduled for 2nd shot 3/11. EASY PEASEY!— 67- and 68-year-oldsLoveland, Colorado

From Kaiser Health News

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Esta historia fue producida por Kaiser Health News, un programa editorial independiente de la Kaiser Family Foundation.

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