The Vaccine Rollout Mess

It’s two weeks after I last wrote about the poor vaccination roll out in New York State. I live in Wisconsin but was in New York visiting my parents when they opened vaccine registration to group 1B. My parents are still awaiting an appointment. I’ve checked EVERY day for the last 19 days and have come up empty each day. This morning, we were closer than ever to securing an appointment but it still did not come to pass.

This is so VERY frustrating! I’ll take you back over the last two and a half weeks on the journey we’ve taken to try and get two elderly people, aged 83 and 84, COVID vaccines. First, you need to assume (because it’s true) that I am a competent computer user, savvy with technology. I completed a second Master’s degree (2018) entirely online. I know the in’s and out’s of computer registration, submission of data, and even, use of drop boxes. I know this, but my parents, do not. Did I mention they are in their 80’s?

The second thing you have to assume is that I have made a valiant effort in trying to get their doses. I have. I continue to work daily to get them registered for doses of the vaccine. Today, I signed on to the Walgreens website early. It was 7:30 a.m. CST. This means it is 8:30 a.m. in New York. Low and behold, I was able to get on and see some available appointments! But, the problem was that Walgreens wants you to be scheduled for both your first and second doses. While I could complete the first part of the registration, they sent me notice that there were no available spots for the second vaccine. Thus, I could not register for either. This made no sense to me but left me without an option.

Having the vaccine registration be entirely online is not acceptable for our elderly. While with my parents, almost three weeks ago in New York, there was no other way to register for the COVID vaccine. After reading as much local information that was available, including websites, online news reports, reading the newspaper, and watching local news, I determined that their best bet was to wait for a call from their regional health care system. Their primary care office had just joined Rochester Regional Healthcare and they told their “patients” to “wait” for a call from them. I reiterated this information to my parents. It was a case of don’t call us, we’ll call you.

Okay. But. But. But.

I wanted to make sure my parents were “in the system.” So, before we left, on 1/17/21, I registered both my parents (read, separately) on the the county website. These vaccines would be administered in the Dome Arena, in Henrietta, about 45 minutes away from where they live. I entered each of their information on separate registrations. Again, they were instructed to wait for “a call.”

But, knowing they were in the system was not enough for me.

While I was there, I checked the Rite Aide Pharmacies site. The queue moved quickly enough, but after waiting through over 3,000 people and 30 minutes, they ended up being out of available appointments. In addition, there were only 8 pharmacies in a 12 county area that were administering vaccines. So, no wonder it did not pan out.

I also checked, CVS and Wegmans (a large supermarket chain) for available doses. None available at either place.

We also heard during our stay (1/13 – 1/18/21) that the doses that were received and available for the WHOLE state of NY was 300,000 doses. Subsequent weeks were to be knocked back to 250,000 doses. This was the available vaccine stockpile for over 7 MILLION people made eligible in New York for vaccination according to the TV news that week. This is a huge number. Much larger, let’s say, than those that fall into the same category in our home state of Wisconsin!

Did I mention my parents are 83 and 84? They still live together in their own home.

My mom and dad are 2 of 7 million people trying to be vaccinated as part of New York State’s open vaccine categories! They might as well be buried needles in a huge haystack!

We left on the morning of January 18th to head back to Wisconsin without them having scheduled vaccine appointments. Apparently, an hour after we left, their regional health system called for my mom. They told here that a vaccine was available for HER through the lottery system and wanted her to come in that afternoon. As an elderly woman, very dependent on the state of her husband’s health, she asked if the vaccination slot was just for her. The reply was yes, just her. So, she denied it! She said that if my dad couldn’t have one too, they they’d both go without! This was, without a doubt, a poor decision. However, it was also a misinformed decision. So, much has changed with health care in the last 30 to 50 years. With HIPPA laws, everyone, even married people or children that are 18, are considered individuals. My mom and dad are joined at the hip, they do not understand HIPPA, nor should they have to.

While this infuriated me (I found out about it that evening in a call from my sister), I also understand my mom’s thinking. They are an old, married couple, living together in their own home. Why couldn’t they be vaccinated together? It only made sense.

But, we’ve realized that common sense does not apply to much of the vaccine roll out. Searching for vaccine appointments for my parents has become part of my life for the past 19 days.

Updates are being posted to the internet through social media feeds such as FaceBook and Twitter. What 84 year old uses Twitter? I am 57 and do not use it! It is ridiculous to expect our elderly to navigate the internet to schedule their vaccine appointments let alone look for updates on various webpages and twitter feeds.

My parents are old. They are even reluctant to answer the phone due to the prevalence of predatory solicitations. I had to coach them to answer the phone, instructing them that either their regional health care system or county health department could be calling with vaccine appointment availability. At least, they were doing that when we left.

But, then, bureaucracy got in the way. If you don’t know, New York State has a lot of bureaucracy. We used to cringe when we had to go to the DMV to renew a registration or get a license plate. It would take an afternoon of very unpleasant communications before you’d leave exhausted at the effort. So, it should be of no surprise that a week after we left, NYS Governor Cuomo instructed the county health departments to only immunize health care workers, not the elderly (even though the elderly were part of category 1B that was open for immunizations).

This directive destroyed an active avenue for my folks to be vaccinated. It destroyed the path for others, too, who also already has obtained county health department appointments. Those were cancelled.

So, we were back to pharmacies. I believe that Walgreens is the best avenue for my parents immunization against the COVID virus. I have been in contact with my father’s cousins’s wife who has helped me have hope in getting their vaccinations scheduled through Walgreen’s pharmacies. I set up a user account for my mom and my dad set his up. Today, we tried – him from Western New York and me from West Central Wisconsin – to obtain appointments. We were close. We’ll keep trying.

Since the Walgreen’s site did not work, I went back and tried Rite Aide, Wegmans, and Topps Market Pharmacies, again. I will keep trying. It is important. My parents fall in the category of IB – they can and SHOULD be vaccinated.

My advice?

  1. If you have elderly parents help them navigate the registrations for their vaccines.
  2. If you have secured a vaccine, be grateful.
  3. If you obtained a vaccine before your “turn” – shame on you! (It is happening.)
  4. And, if you hear of those, like us, who are having trouble securing a vaccine for an eligible person or person(s), have some compassion.
  5. Know each state/region is different and acknowledge it.

The vaccine roll out should have been better. All along the media has been telling us that the elderly are part of those at risk. But, when it came to ensuring they could sign up and be vaccinated, the system worked against them. I expected better. We needed to do better.

And, if you are already vaccinated, thank your lucky stars!

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