Vaccine Matters: Part II

Mid-January, I traveled to New York with my husband to see my parents. They are in their mid-80’s, still living in their own home. The day we arrived, New York had just opened vaccinations for group 1b – those 75 and older. Much of my time there was spent trying to secure vaccine appointments for them. You can read about that early experience in my previous post entitled Vaccine Matters.

We came home after a five day visit. They did not have appointments for vaccines. However, I was able to add their information to their Regional Healthcare Group and the County site – both of which promised calls if vaccine appointments became available.

Here’s where it gets muddled. The day we left, an hour after leaving, my mom received a call from their Regional Healthcare Group stating her name had come up in the lottery! She asked if they had a spot for my dad, her husband, too. No – they explained it was a lottery and there was only a spot for her to receive the vaccine. My mom is 83 and my dad is 84. She declined the spot, stating that they needed to both have the vaccine – at the same time. Now, some of this was misunderstanding how the system worked. And, I partially blamed myself for not making sure they understood that they are considered individuals when it came to healthcare – and especially when it came to a vaccine lottery. Believe me, I was very upset to learn – in the car, on the way home to Wisconsin – from my sister – that my mom declined her chance to have the vaccine.

Elderly people receive care from trusted providers, such as their private physicians. They are also used to being involved in caring for each other. The HIPPA laws of today, where everything is private for individuals, is really something beyond their comprehension.

And, it is also hard to understand, even for me, when you have two elderly people living in the same household, that they might have to run two separate times to receive vaccines. Their lives have been entwined for over 60 years! Vaccines could have been provided to both, at the same time.

But, the system, obviously, did not allow for this. So, for the next seven weeks – from January 18th until March 2nd, I searched for vaccine appointments for my parents – at Walgreens, at CVS, at Rite Aide, at Wegmans (a grocery store with a pharmacy). Soon, we settled on Walgreens being our best bet. This still involved signing on daily to the Walgreens website. Not once a day, but any where from several to many times a day.

But, the decision to go with a specific site came with it’s own set of problems (which really applied to all the sites). Each online site required registration and an account to be set up. Then, one had to search for appointment slots according to your zip code. Once a slot showed up (and there were many days that none were available), you had to secure a second slot for the second dose. 99% of the time, there were no slots available for the second shot appointment. I even ended up calling a Walgreens local to my parents home and asking if one had to secure both appointments at the same time. (I thought that maybe I was doing something wrong, since success was so elusive.) After an hour on hold, I found that the answer was yes – both vaccine appointments had to be made at the same time.

In addition, I asked if I could register them over the phone for their vaccines, since Walgreens and all the other sites as well, stated on their websites that one could call to make an appointment. I learned that is not so. Appointments could only be made online.

Okay. Well, who ever thought that our elderly would be computer savvy enough to navigate all this online searching, registering, and making appointments online was nuts. They don’t have the skills. Fortunately, I was able and available to help, even from a distance of 900 miles. But, for seven weeks, I came up short.

Finally, on March 2nd, I secured appointments at Walgreens for both of my parents, a half hour apart on March 3rd. It just so happened my sister in law, who lives in Buffalo, was going to visit them and take them some homemade meals later the same day. She jumped at the chance to go early and get them to their appointments. I will be forever grateful.

But, the lack of consideration towards our elderly did not stop with how the appointments were made. Walgreens, and I am sure other sites, wanted vaccine registrants to download and print their consents and bring them to the appointment. My eighty-four year old father admitted he did not know if he could do that part.

“I don’t think I’ve ever downloaded and printed anything,” he told me.

So, after finding my way back to the consent page (this is before we received the confirmation email where the consent page is linked), I downloaded the form and sent it to my sister in law. She printed them at home and took them to my parents, in addition to helping them fill the consent form out before they left for the appointments.

What I’m trying to relay by recounting this experience is that the roll out in New York State was poor for our elderly. There was not any consideration for them and their ability to navigate online systems. I know it has not been the same in other states. In fact, I know that for some here in Wisconsin, it has been extremely easy for some independent elderly to receive their vaccinations. It must be recognized that things such as vaccine rollouts vary from state to state and probably, even place to place within the same state. Do not assume your experience is what happens everywhere or for everyone. I know that comprehending what we had to go through to get my parents shots might be hard to understand. But, it was difficult. If it has not been so for you, count your blessings.

My daily search for vaccine appointments ended this week. It is something I am not going to miss! I wrote another poem about this experience for some closure.

One Week in March

As I lay in bed with insomnia as my lover,
I hear the train whistle blow
Long and low
Cutting through the silent darkness enveloping me.

Night worries have gone 
From my children, now grown
To my parents slowly returning to toddlerhood
Complete with wobbly knees 
And, sadly, decreased capacities.

I long for sleep.

COVID worries are few
Now that the elusive vaccine has
Come through

Elderly lives on hold for a year,
Makes this daughter work hard
To drive down the fear.

And so, as it took a village to raise
Our children to take the lead on stage
Others so near help our parents
To get there.

A small needle in the arm,
Does no earthly harm,
Now my worries can rest
Until there is another test.

I welcome sleep until then.

Today is Day 5 of the 31 day Slice of Life Story Challenge. Thanks to TwoWritingTeachers.org for developing this supportive community of writers.

18 thoughts

  1. Hopefully in writing about the frustrating experience of this all there is healing. You make sure great points! Why oh why do they expect the elderly to navigate so many technological layers to get a vaccine! For me as a Teacher we went to a large gymnasium and it was one and done, until my second at the end of March. But as soon as they said we were eligible I went on the VAMS site and was so alarmed I could not navigate it at all to set up an appointment. When I saw how easy it could be I wondered why would they make it so difficult? I am glad it worked out for you and your parents.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. Yes, more consideration for the ease of getting the vaccine should have been considered. I spoke to a teacher friend last night whose district wants to “do their own thing” then could not get enough vaccine for the whole staff. The county held their first vaccine clinic for educators last night. Many received it all at once – I think it worked well. Glad you had your shot and it wasn’t too hard to obtain!

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  2. Yes, the process is not an easy one in NYS. I have tried for months to get appointments and it has been especially difficult since we are moving to Virginia next week. I fortuitously was provided both dosages at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital but my husband is still waiting for his. We are now hoping to have my son and husband vaccinated in Virginia. I totally understand the issues that you found here in NYS. I am puzzled that the government does not understand the difficulties the elderly have with computerized appointments. Your speaks well about this topic.
    Elderly lives on hold for a year,
    Makes this daughter work hard
    To drive down the fear.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are many in NY that can relate to this problem, Carol. It’s sad. Thanks for your kind words about the poem. I am glad you got your vaccine. Best wishes on getting the rest of your family vaccinated in Virginia and good luck with the move!

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  3. Your poem provided me with closure, too. I enjoyed the rhymes, which were well crafted and not cheesy, and I could connect with the insomnia that grips an offspring when a parent becomes the child. I question if our nation is doing what’s best for its people when each state is so different. The pandemic has certainly brought this to the forefront as I have noted significant disparities in the public school system when talking to my sisters who teach and taught in Michigan and North Carolina. All in all, I think the rights of a state should be independent, but states need to be collaborating on what works, so we can be proactive in our learning.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You make some great points about consistency among states. It would help immensely, I think. Although, like you I do believe they should retain their independence. However, I ran into some friends being incredulous about how hard it was to get my parents vaccinated because it was not their experience here. Frustrating!

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  4. Wow! This sounds like a nightmare. It’s always good to hear a personal story, rather than just “the news”. You are a wonderful daughter. You’re parents are lucky to have you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Carol, I’m sorry this has been such a difficult experience for you and your parents. As Rita said above, I’m glad your parents had you and your sister-in-law to help. Thank you for sharing your story as well as your poem. Here’s hoping you have nothing but good nights of sleep from here on!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Tammy! The frustrating part is that I do not think it had to be this confusing. The roll out could have been smoother. I think they needed some input from nurses or doctors or even social workers who work with the elderly on how to expedite the vaccination process for them. I feel for others still hunting…

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  6. The search for vaccines is fraught with frustration. And I know the feelings you express from trying to navigate the system myself. It makes me wonder why it has to be so hard, and who is looking OUT for us and our loved ones, and why we can’t look out for the important people in our world better….all of it. And your poem, wow. The words, and your play with rhyme and rhythm, BEG to be read aloud. The phrase “insomnia as my lover” – that really resonated with me. I mean, it’s not like we WANT insomnia, and yet there is something that’s overly familiar about it too: the same thought patterns, the well-worn paths our brains travel when sleep eludes us. Beautiful slice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Lainie. This is one of those pieces that although I am glad people can relate to, it also saddens me because it means that many of us have had similar experiences. I truly appreciate your kind words about my poem. Thanks, again.

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