I don’t know why the media are bellyaching about how hard it is for ordinary people to get the COVID vaccine. It took me less than 2 weeks to secure an appointment, and I only have to wait another 6 weeks to receive the actual jab.
I’m 65 and live in Pittsburgh — a big city with two big health systems and thousands of providers. So naturally it wasn’t going to be difficult to get the vaccine. Here’s all I had to do, beginning Jan. 19 when the state moved everyone age 65-75, as well as people with any of the familiar list of comorbidities, into phase 1a of the distribution:
Jan. 19: I see that I’m now eligible. I go to the state’s online COVID vaccine info page to find out where to sign up. I discover the state doesn’t have one — no surprise, really, since Pennsylvania doesn’t splurge on public health ($39 per capita, according to a recent Associated Press report), unlike such notorious spendthrifts as Mississippi ($107) and Wyoming ($178).
But shortly thereafter, a neighbor texts to say that Allegheny Health Network (AHN), one of the two big systems and the one closest to me, is scheduling for the eligible public. She and her husband were able to sign up — at an AHN facility in Erie, which is 2 hours away, and for a week later.
I go to the AHN site, but alas, I’m greeted with this:
I have a MyChart account but it has no information. (Flash forward: “several days” has now stretched past 2 weeks and AHN remains mum.)
The state, however, does have a super helpful map of pharmacies and hospitals that have received vaccines. Green dots indicate a place with vaccines; red means no vaccine. Sure, AHN’s Allegheny General Hospital is shown in green even though they don’t really have vaccines for the public, but one is obviously invited to call others. How hard can that be?
It turns out, yet another neighbor did exactly that, spending several hours on the phone, mostly receiving busy signals or waiting on hold, and eventually secured spots on multiple pharmacies’ waiting lists, none anywhere nearby, but still. (Flash forward: no word from any of them.) I’m healthy with no risk factors other than age. I decide to bide my time.
Jan. 22: Allegheny County, where Pittsburgh is, announces that it’s setting up a vaccination site at a suburban hotel, and lists blocks of appointments. Hey, great! I log onto the site, find an available slot, spend several minutes filling out pages of personal information, hit the final “save and continue” button… and land on the state’s vaccine info page. No appointment confirmation and no indication why not. I can only guess that somebody who started the process seconds before me got the slot before I could finish. And now the buttons for all the available time slots merely proceed to the state page.
Jan. 26: It’s the weekly 6 p.m. Zoom call with neighbors, mostly in my age group, who normally gather at the now-shuttered bar on my street. Several say the county had opened another block of appointments about an hour before, but they were all gone within minutes. The conversation goes like one would imagine among small-town heroin addicts after their only dealer is busted: “Did you find any?” “No, did you?” “God damn it.”
Jan. 29: The local NPR affiliate’s website has a story about vaccinations. Its lead photo shows a pharmacy with a sign in the window: “We are OUT of the COVID Vaccine. Please try back next at the END of February.” Days later, the state’s map shows the pharmacy in green.
Jan. 31: Another neighbor shares a Facebook post indicating that Rite Aid pharmacies in the region are offering appointments. This is odd, because the main Rite Aid website declares flatly, “You cannot schedule a vaccination appointment directly through Rite Aid at this time, however you can schedule through your state or local jurisdiction.” But the post includes a Riteaid.com link to something called COVID Qualifier; OK, why not.* One selects an individual pharmacy — none in the city of Pittsburgh, but who cares now — checks for open appointments (there aren’t many), and then fills out pages of personal information like on the county site.
And like on the county site, when I get to the final “submit” button, here’s the result:
Son of a b***h.
The phone is now blowing up with text chatter from the neighbors. “Did you get one?” “Not yet, it says the slot is taken!” “I tried 20 times before I got one!”
Which is eventually my experience. I finally found a Rite Aid in Connellsville, a depressed former coal town about 50 miles away, with a whole series of morning appointments… for March 16. I grab one and hallelujah, it’s accepted.
My wife texts the neighbors that “John got an appointment in Connellsville, wherever the hell that is.” Told where and that it’s decidedly uncharming, she responds, “If Bumf**k was a real place with vaccines, I’d go there.”
I have no idea where or how I’ll get the second dose. But this was so easy, I’m not worried.
* Here’s why not, as of Feb. 3: all the slots are now taken. MedPage Today will not provide the link.