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As a physician working in an intensive care unit in Phoenix, Arghavan Salles has spent the past several months desperately trying to keep Covid-19 patients alive. She knows all too well how terrifying it is for them to be alone in a hospital room, away from their family and dependent on a machine for their every breath. That’s why earlier this month she was feverishly searching online and poring over state public health websites in an attempt to book a vaccination appointment for her mother in California.

But like so many other Americans trying to navigate the vaccination process for themselves and for loved ones, Salles found herself drowning in an ocean of false leads and dead ends.

“It’s just utter chaos,” said Salles. “We’re all just desperate to figure out how to get this for the people who matter most in our lives and it’s very, very challenging, and so super frustrating.”

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Defeated, Salles took to Twitter to recount her endeavor and vent. Dozens of people from across the country commented on her thread with similar experiences and frustrations.

One person recounted how she tried to sign up her 87-year-old mother in Texas for appointments in three different counties, each to no avail. Another in Illinois lamented being unable to get any information on vaccinating their 86-year-old mother who is immunocompromised.

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A man shared that his 79-year-old father in Virginia was put on hold for more than an hour and a half trying to book an appointment — only to be disconnected. And one woman recounted how over the course of six days, she and her two siblings tried to book appointments for their 90-year-old parents in New York City. Of the two appointments the siblings made, one ended up getting canceled, but luckily both parents were vaccinated at the second appointment.

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Salles shows a photo of her mother. Dominic Valente for STAT

“I was surprised at how many people from how many places were spending a lot of time trying to find vaccines for their loved ones,” said Salles. “So many people are spending hours and hours trying to just schedule what should be a very simple thing.”

With the vaccine rollout left mostly up to states and counties, they have had to rapidly devise their own methods for distributing shots to their residents. Every state has its own priority system and way of scheduling appointments, which sometimes change week to week. The complicated logistics paired with inconsistent communication to the public has resulted in mass confusion. The result: People are spending hours seeking information and searching for coveted appointment slots.

Salles’ experience is illustrative. At first, she thought a simple Google search for “How to get Covid vaccine Santa Clara County” would do the trick. That led to a county website that explained who was eligible for a shot. Her 70-year-old mother met the eligibility requirements listed. But the website didn’t explain how to schedule an appointment. Instead, it directed people to reach out to their health care providers, while also listing several health care systems to contact.

Salles decided to check the website for her mother’s health insurance provider, but she said it just led her to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. She clicked on a link there for California and found it had no specific information about scheduling an appointment. So she went to the California public health department website and found a section labeled “When, where, and how can I get a vaccine?” It seemed promising, she thought, but ultimately it didn’t offer her any further information on how to actually schedule an appointment.

In parts of Florida like Collier County, people have been instructed to use the event management website Eventbrite to book their appointments. Kate Messner, a children’s book author in New York spent an hour trying to figure out how to get an appointment for her parents, aged 81 and 87, when she stumbled upon the Eventbrite link. The page said the registration was opening in just half an hour, so she waited anxiously for the time to wound down and successfully snagged a booking before they were all taken.

“Registering via Eventbrite was a lot more like trying to get Springsteen tickets than trying to get a doctor’s appointment,” she said.

Others, like Leila Mureebe, a vascular surgeon in North Carolina, were not as fortunate using Eventbrite. Mureebe was on the website at 9 one morning as signups were opening to try to book vaccinations for her 83-year-old parents, who also live in Collier County. But after requesting two appointments, she was booted off the service and lost her place in line. That happened about four or five times, she said, before the system told her that all the spots were gone. So instead, her parents braved the long lines at a mass vaccination site 2 1/2 hours away in Miami.

“This is an unnecessary side effect of the vaccine,” said Mureebe. “Older people have it rough enough with depression and all the other things due to the social isolation from this virus. This is precisely the last thing they need.”

One night after working on and off for two days trying to book an appointment, Diana Libuda, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Oregon, was able to snag a last-minute spot for her 79-year-old mother in San Diego the following morning at the Petco Park baseball stadium.

“I truly felt like I won the lottery,” she said. During a previous attempt she had found one open slot that disappeared as soon as she typed her mother’s information into the webpage.

Vineet Arora, an academic hospitalist at the University of Chicago Medicine, was using three different computer screens and her phone to try and book vaccinations for her parents in Maryland, aged 75 and 73, and her children’s caretaker in Illinois, who is 67. But every time she filled in their health information on the vaccination websites, she said the application would crash.

“It’s basically a free-for-all,” said Arora. “It’s a mess, and it’s incredibly unfair to have a first-come first-served system, and inefficient.” Thanks to a tip from a friend on Facebook she was able to get an appointment for her children’s caretaker.

Interspersed between the comments on Salles’ Twitter thread from those struggling to get an appointment were responses from other people offering advice on how they were able to successfully get a vaccine. They shared vaccination site dashboards such as VaccinateCA, which was compiled by volunteers, and other resources they came across.

“Somebody retweeted my tweet,” she said, “and said something like, ‘Turns out if you want to know how to get a vaccine in this country, you have to follow Arghavan Salles.’”

Salles tried every tip she was given, including downloading an app for a $200 concierge primary care service that said it could find her an appointment. Though the app waived its fee, it too proved fruitless for Salles. Finally days after she first tried, she was able to book an appointment for her mother at Stanford Health Care, about an hour’s drive from her home, for Feb. 1. That information came courtesy of a friend who worked there and had alerted Salles that the system was opening up its vaccinations to patients over the age of 65. Salles said she was optimistic, but still felt there was a chance it wouldn’t work out in the end.

“It shouldn’t take four days for me to try to figure out, and have to crowdsource from thousands of people, how to get my mother a vaccine when we’re trying to vaccinate everyone,” said Salles.

  • The prior administration screwed this up from start to finish — no surprise there. Now that the feds are getting involved things should improve, but it is going to take time to put a supply chain and distribution system in place. In the meantime, chaos. And in the short run, we have no choice but to prioritize speed over fairness, which means that eligibility must be very bright-line, i.e., age. This makes the system easier to administer, but it hurts immunocompromised individuals who may be more vulnerable than folks who are older but healthy. I have blood cancer but won’t turn 65 for a few months, so in California I don’t currently qualify for the vaccine. I don’t blame the public health department, which is trying to get as many shots in arms as possible; I blame the federal government’s failure to prepare for this moment months ago.

  • It IS hard and even being an MD doesn’t make it any easier. The author said in her search on her parent’s county website it said contact your provider or listed several systems. She did some other searches instead and finally ended up with appts at Stanford — which might have happened more easily if she had followed the county directions. And few people have friends who can alert them privately .

    Almost everyone described did end up with appointments. So I guess congratulations are in order — millions more still hunting and and they lack computer access or skills, transportation, etc. So we the privileged should maybe help others also and not complain quite as much.

    But all should prepare for frustrating hours. The previous administration did not purchase enough doses, obviously, and distribution was a mess. The Warp Speed people said we will have vaccines but once we ship, it’s up to others to set up clinics etc. Then Azar said open up to age 65 right away — which created the tsunami.

    • Interestingly enough, in our area, each year there is a free backpack giveaway for school children. It requires registration and is at a central location. People are lined up hours before it opens. No problem getting the word out, negotiating the registration or finding a way to get there. Suddenly with vaccinations, everyone is confused.

  • This is the tragic result of tripling the number of people in 1B1 at the last minute, as the dunderheads in WA state govt chose to do. Chaos, and more unnecessary deaths. You can’t aim three trains at the same track at the same time–with the system struggling to prepare for one–and expect a good result. Shame on the “leaders” who are supposedly experts.

    • Er, the open up to 65 ORDER came from Alex Azar. Underwear in the Trump administration.

  • As a non-hospital affiliated practicing physician, age 69, I contacted my state and local medical associations for details on how to locate vaccination. Neither provided any specific information. I then went through 2 levels at the state health department. Their answer- partner with a local hospital or pharmacy. Local hospitals only provided vaccine to active medical staff and no pharmacies had vaccine. On a tip from a retired airline pilot friend, I was able to schedule through the county health department. There is no command and control for the process. Things should flow from the federal to state to county to local health agencies with uniform guidelines. As of today, there is so much misinformation and lack of and conflicting information that unraveling the path to vaccination is circuitous and lacks transparency. We only had 9 months to work this out and emergency management simulations for this situation have been practiced for decades. This is a glaring example of the chaos that is our health care system.

  • Entered all and every websites in PBCounty, Fl multiple times as a compromised widow in 90th year with no replies.Gov Desantis now just turned all vaccine sites over to Publix, the” supermarket de jour” but one can only enter free-for-all @ 6 AM via computor. I now wake up at 5AMevery day to sit at Computor website for 2 fruitless hours…” no appts available”🤬 Hopefully everyone else will get the shots so I won’t be infected by them . Now that’s the lottery I might win!

    • Totally mismanaged from the beginning, the,ststes have a National Guard and nurses and doctors, all the troops have military first aid training- i think these assets need to be deployed in every county in every stste in the union to set up vaccination stations coordinated through state and federal agencies with a system to get everyone vaccinated in a coordinated snd sensical way. It’s absurd the entire planet is panicking about test and vaccinations especially in the USA!

  • She should think prophylaxis treatment as well. Follow FLCCC.net for treatment options. The vaccines are not the only option.

  • It’s no better in Georgia where it’s a hodgepodge of sites. You can go to the pharmacy sites individually (Publix, Kroger, Ingles, CVS, Walgreens) and search fruitlessly every day for the open slots. On one site, you have to select the pharmacy, then go look for appointments, and if nothing’s available, you go back to the search and look at the next site, and so on and so on and so on. Then you go to the dozens (hundreds) of individual sites listed on the public health website, where you call some, others you fill out a form and hope to hear back when they have openings, and others have online appointments. When something opens up in Fulton County, you fill out a lengthy form; if someone completes their form for the time slot you’ve chosen before you do, you have to back out and pick another time, and start over. It’s a ridiculous mess.

  • I am a primary care physician in NY doing in person consults. I have no hospital privileges, so I am on lists as my age. I have spent hours trying, but can not devote my day to vaccine chasing over patient care. I have patients sending me vaccine alerts, but by the time I register, they are fully booked. I have gone for antibody testing. If I am positive, the pressure is decreased.
    Why isn’t the CDC recommending antibody testing to decrease anxiety?

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