Crashed appointment websites. Long lines. Midnight alarms are supposed to book a time before the morning rush. And waiting for hours on hold for calls from people who do not have internet access or are struggling with it.
Millions of Washington residents are doing everything possible to direct the state’s maze-like introduction of the COVID-19 vaccination program, which is largely based on the hospital system. Hospitals have also suffered from unreliable vaccine supplies and ever-changing rules about who qualifies for admissions and how and where to admit them.
More than 1 million people in Washington are 65 years and older, making them eligible for injection, as are health care workers, first responders and residents and long-term care workers, and people over 50 who live in multi-generational households.
But the state is only getting 100,000 new cans a week, and where the cans will go is unpredictable, even if the federal government says it will increase the state’s allotment by 16% in the coming weeks. When the state changed its age limit from 70 to 65 earlier this month, almost 400,000 people were added.
In short, far more people are entitled to the two-dose vaccine than the number of doses available. As of Monday, 455,218 people across the state had received their first dose, and 86,269 were fully vaccinated, according to the Washington State Department of Health.
With less supply, “it will take time, which will require patience from all of us,” said Dr. Omar Shah, the state’s health minister, last week when the state opened four mass vaccination sites across the state. None of the four locations had open appointments on Friday.
Due to the significant shortage and a decentralized system of providers, older adults, to which a disproportionately high number of COVID-19 deaths can be attributed, are largely on their own to end the effects of the almost one-year pandemic.
“This is life and death, and from a public perspective, they take it very seriously,” said Walt Bowen, president of Washington State’s Seniors’ Lobby. “People are under great tension because we have been locked up, and it is a stressful time for everyone. They are concerned and do not know where to turn. ”
Hundreds of readers responded when the Seattle Times asked for stories of vaccination attempts. Taken together, their experiences show increasing despair about finding an appointment and frustration when attempts are unsuccessful.
For those landing a slot, their stories range from finding a single appointment at a neighborhood pharmacy to driving 90 miles to taking a ferry to a location only to find out it ran out and they have to go somewhere else.
For some, frustration was further inflamed this week by news that several health systems had offered vaccines to influential individuals such as donors and board members without giving members of the public equal access.
No technical access
Pat Passamonte is 93 years old and her husband is 90 years old. You live in a mobile home park in Poulsbo, which is suitable for residents aged 55 and over, although most residents are at least 70 years old.
They meet the criteria of who is most susceptible to COVID-19 and who should be prioritized for the vaccine. But Passamonte and her husband could not secure a place for the injection. The couple, like about a quarter of older adults across the country, do not have internet access. According to Passamonte, only one in more than 100 residents was vaccinated in their mobile home park.
“It seems like these pods have been ignored by seniors,” she said. “We have a clubhouse, a place they could set it up. But I think there are too many people. “
Instead, Passamonte’s daughter, Lynn Arthur, scoured various vendors online to see if anything was available in Kitsap County, to no avail.
She is not alone in the rush. When Kitsap County opened registration for the county’s first community vaccination clinic in Bremerton, all seats for the week were full within 35 minutes, said Dave Rasmussen of Kitsap County’s Joint Information Center.
Arthur has checked Safeway and St. Michael Medical Center, but neither has any dates in the near future. She was trying to see if there were any vacancies for her mother and stepfather at 2:00 a.m.
“Without me, you would have no options,” said Arthur, who lives on Bainbridge Island. “There are no other options. If you don’t have internet access or are unfamiliar with the internet, forget about it. You simply have no way of accessing appointments. “
Shirley Mace was given a phone number from her doctor’s office to call about COVID-19 vaccines, but she never got through. At 83, she has neither a computer nor a smartphone and does not drive.
“I called and called and called,” she said. “I do not know what to do.”
Overall, about 90% of adults use the internet, but the rate among adults over 65 is well behind other age groups, according to the Pew Research Center. About 27% of those over 65 do not use the internet, compared with 12% of adults between 50 and 64 years old and 3% or less for adults under 49 years of age.
Pew says lower-income groups, people with lower levels of education, and rural communities use the Internet less than others.
“I think people think everyone has a computer, but I’m someone who doesn’t,” said Mace, who lives in Renton.
73-year-old Robert Nielsen set about making an appointment for his 86-year-old aunt, who has neither a computer nor a mobile phone. He thought she was going to be vaccinated through her senior community, but no.
“She tried like crazy,” he said. “She could only call the hospital, but every time she called they said, ‘Call me back tomorrow. ‘”
He eventually got an appointment at a vaccination clinic at the Swedish Medical Center at Seattle University. He went to the construction site the day before to find out the logistics and saw elderly people pushing their relatives into wheelchairs, finding appointments unnecessary and being turned away.
“It must be devastating,” he said.
There is a lack of ambiguity about how to get the vaccine and there are stories of back-channel attempts to get one.
During an online presentation, Ellen Snyder, a nurse at Northshore Senior Center’s Adult Day Health, heard from attendees and their families that they assumed their doctor would call them and tell them when a vaccine was available. One man made an appointment with his doctor in the VA and thought he would then get the shot. But when he arrived he was told he had to go online to get a time, Snyder said.
She has also heard from patients finding doses in different ways. One person, she said, followed a pharmacy team to an assisted living facility and then asked when they were coming out, if there were any extra doses.
Where can I make an appointment?
If you know someone who is eligible to get the vaccine and is unsuccessful in finding a vaccination site through the Department of Health’s website or if they don’t have internet access, they can try calling DOH at 1-800-525-0127 , press # or the alternate phone number 888-856-5816. However, DOH had long response times and a lot of people trying to get information so calls might not get through.
Walter and Hilda Kicinski, both 76, live with their son, daughter-in-law and two granddaughters and would like to be vaccinated so that the girls can once again teach personally at the Holy Rosary School in West Seattle. By then they are all home.
The Kicinskis tried to attend the Virginia Mason / Amazon vaccination event last Sunday. Nothing here. They registered at the University of Washington Medical Center’s location hoping for a call back. Neither there nor in several other clinics or hospitals listed near their home.
Walter Kicinski got close, however. He was on the Swedish side and saw an appointment remaining. But when he entered his information, “it disappeared before my eyes,” he said, “and there was nothing for the remaining days.”
Kicinski signed up to the sites at 12:30 p.m. hoping to overcome the morning rush but that didn’t work. He decided to look further afield and flipped through the government website, which listed the vaccination sites.
“I clicked on everything, assuming we could make a day of it,” he said. Still no appointments.
“The frustrating part is that we have friends in Texas and Arizona who get calls from their health care providers with vaccines ready,” said Kicinski. “And we play internet roulette and try to make an appointment. It’s massively frustrating. ”
Some older adults, like Passamonte, rely on tech-savvy and hardworking family members to secure dates. Susan Gleason’s parents, both 85 years old, didn’t want to make a fuss, which left Gleason and her siblings to come up with a vaccine.
But even as a healthcare worker who knows the system and vaccinates children as part of her job, Seattle-based Gleason ended up trying to get her parents’ appointments.
“I was kind of incredulous it was up to us,” said Gleason. “You had just seen your family doctor. You know who is the oldest, who is the most comorbid.
“You would think there would be a range.”
Her mother, who is familiar with her healthcare system’s online portal, has been bumped more than once. She tried her cell phone, but it didn’t work. So Gleason and her daughter had to drive by, mask themselves, open another browser, and answer a 14-question survey to get to the scheduling facility, which eventually worked.
“But would my mother be able to find out?” Gleason asked.
Gleason compared it to getting a Sony PlayStation around Christmas. Everywhere she tried there was nothing.
She finally posted on Facebook: “Why is it so difficult?” Friends in similar circumstances kept repeating their feelings. They had hired family, friends, and anyone with the time to help navigate the system.
“But what about the people who don’t have such resources?” Gleason asked. “Because it strains my abilities. And I’m in healthcare so I know how that works. “
Her parents are prepared for vaccines thanks to her “dogged advocacy”.
“But you just know that there are people we miss,” she said. “And I’m worried about her.”