Reader Query: Getting a Covid Vaccine in Your Area

by nyljaouadi1
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Even with a lot of Americans are taking a wait-and-see stance towards the Pfizer and Moderna Covid vaccines, current demand is nevertheless way ahead of supply. For instance, the Los Angeles Times wrote about “vaccine chasers,” individuals who don’t have an appointment and may not even fit current eligibility criteria, but nevertheless hang out at vaccine distribution centers hoping to get a shot:

But some clinics have soon-to-expire doses left over at the end of the day or during an early-afternoon lull, and word has quickly spread about this potential back door to vaccine access. Some who flock to the sites spend hours waiting in the hope of catching a lucky break.

Another desperate strategy is going out of state. USA Today reported that of the 1.2 million shots administered so far, 41,000 were to visitors, as in “vaccine tourists,” not just part-of-the-year residents.

Independent of short supplies, the process is a mess in many states. For instance, from the Philadelphia Inquirer a couple of days ago: No phone hotlines, multiple websites, long lines: Getting a COVID-19 vaccine is confusing in Pa. and N.J. From the story:

David Zalles, 82, spent an hour on Montgomery County’s website before he realized all the appointments to get the coronavirus vaccine were already booked.

Arlene and Carl Taraschi of Burlington County preregistered on New Jersey’s website at the same time, but got appointments more than two months apart.

And 67-year-old Glenn Davis of Phoenixville contacted multiple vaccine providers but hit dead ends when he tried to make an appointment.

Five weeks after the coronavirus vaccine rollout began nationwide, millions are now eligible to get the shots in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. But the states are still receiving far fewer doses than they need, and with no centralized system for administering them, confusion and frustration reign among the vaccine-hungry public.

KING5 reported on long lines and confusion in Washington State. But not to worry:

On Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced a new partnership with Amazon and Virginia Mason to bring the COVID-19 vaccine to the public. There will be a pop-up vaccine clinic on Sunday to serve 2,000 people in phases 1A and 1B.

Readers like Tomonthebeach have been volunteering their horror stories. Hoisted from comments last Friday:

Floridaman Vaxx Vexed. I feel like Charley Brown with Lucy and the Football.

Biden has a longer way to go than he thinks with vaccination. The Florida governor, Trump’s Mini-Me, decided that Publix Grocery stores were the best way to distribute vaccines for COVID-19. The website said to come back Jan 22nd at 6AM to sign up for a vaccination – if I was a resident over 65. I opened the page at 05:59. At 06:00, the page said to stay on it and it would refresh every 60 seconds – eventually opening to an appointment registration page. At 07:42 (1hr and 42 minutes waiting in line), the page refreshed to say – sorry – no more vaccine. I rather suspect that my experience this morning is the national norm.

At least you can theoretically get a vaccine in Florida. If you search on “Where can I get a Covid vaccine near me” the first entry is HHS and the second is the CDB. Both have a link on the first page to a private site, VaccineFinder, which doesn’t list any Covid vaccines.

If you want to gaslight yourself, you can then go to the third result, from SolvHealth, Covid Vaccine Locations Near Me. Alabama is after Wyoming, so their alphabetization skills raises questions about their level of care.
When you click on a state, you get a list of cities. Remember, Birmingham is not only the biggest city in Alabama, but it is also home to the best medical school in the South at the University of Alabama (meaning they probably have some super-cold refrigerators), and two other major hospitals. This is the result:

So you have to go to the fourth result, the Alabama Department of Public Health (which remember neither HHS nor the CDC pointed to), to find:

Vaccination Update

The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) is aware that the COVID-19 Vaccine Hotline: 1-855-566-5333 is experiencing difficulties. Staff continues working to expand vaccine scheduling capabilities at the call center. Hotline personnel have been working to schedule healthcare workers for appointments and those in the 75-plus age group, law enforcement officers, and firefighters for appointments. At present there are no more appointments available at county health departments. The call center will take your contact information and add it to a waiting list. Callers will be contacted as soon as more appointments are available.

The demand for COVID-19 vaccine continues to exceed supply as there are more than 326,000 health care workers and nearly 350,000 people in Alabama who qualify for a vaccine because they are 75 years old and older.

COVID-19 Vaccine Scheduling Hotline 1-855-566-5333

The hotline is for healthcare workers, people 75 years or older, and first responders, including law enforcement and firefighters to schedule an appointment for a free COVID-19 vaccination at local health departments. Telephone calls are answered from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. seven days a week. Specific information, such as what to bring and what to wear, will be provided when appointments are made. Appointments are made first come, first serve for persons within the targeted priority groups.

The COVID-19 Vaccine Scheduling Hotline received over 1.1 million calls in the first day of being open to the public. Please do not call the appointment line if you do not qualify to schedule a vaccine at this time. Due to the overwhelming amount of calls, our target population cannot get through to schedule their appointments.

Please do not call your local hospital directly to set up appointments to receive your COVID-19 vaccine….Updated information will be provided as other locations have vaccine available for additional groups.

Due to the massive call volume, callers to the COVID-19 Vaccine Scheduling Hotline are encouraged to try their call again later if they get a busy signal. We are rapidly adding staff to assist callers to the scheduling hotline. We appreciate your patience. Additional information will be provided as more vaccine is available and new groups can schedule their COVID-19 vaccine.

I don’t think I need to expatiate on how dreadful this process is: you are likely to get busy signals, then have long hold times….only in many cases to be told they’ll ring you later? As if you can hang out with your phone and keep it clear to make sure you don’t miss the call back?

As you can see, a big part of the problem isn’t just limited supply but poor organization and communication. From Kaiser Health News late last week:

Nearly 6 in 10 people 65 and older who have not yet gotten a shot said they don’t have enough information about how to get vaccinated, according to the KFF survey. (KHN is an editorially independent program of KFF.)

Older Americans are not the only ones in the dark about the inoculation process. About 55% of essential workers —designated by public health officials as being near the front of the line for vaccinations — also don’t know when they can get the shots, the survey found. Surprisingly, 21% of health workers said they are unsure about when they will get vaccinated.

So…drumroll…for those of you who have gotten or attempted to get the vaccine for yourself or a family member:

1. Do you know where vaccines are being administered? Is it just through hospitals or also, a la Florida, designated drug chains? Has the state set up any clinics? If so, do the state clinics seem to be a significant channel?

2. Do you know how to set up an appointment? Do you know from personal experience if that process works well (as in how much of a time sink it is, particularly if there are no appointments available?)

3. Did you get an appointment? If so, how many attempts were required?

4. Is it possible to schedule your second shot when you schedule the first? If not, how much confidence do you have that you will get a second vaccination on time or not too long after the recommended time?

5. If you got vaccinated, was the process well run? The Wall Street Journal said for a scheduled vaccination, it should take about an hour all in, including doing intake documents and being observed for 15-30 minutes afterwards (that seems optimistic to me but perhaps it really does happen).

Please do not tell us about vaccination in nursing homes. That is a separate channel and is not that difficult to manage once the bugs are worked out.

Please do not tell us about reactions (or not) to the vaccines. The performance of the state public health’s vaccine scheduling/administration system will probably be pretty consistent across areas of the state, while vaccine reactions are more variable. We’d rather turn to data from the CDC (which you can find here) and the experience of doctors and nurses in settings where they are administering the Covid vaccines on a daily basis and thus have a decent-sized sample.


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