If all goes according to plan, by the time you read this on Tuesday, I will be on my way to getting my first Covid vaccine dose. I have a late morning appointment at Boston Medical Center. This feels like a miracle.
Just last Thursday, Massachusetts opened up vaccination eligibility to those of us aged 65 and older. The online appointment system was not ready for the onslaught. It crashed Thursday morning.
My younger daughter in Philadelphia had stayed up past midnight to see if she could snag me an appointment, but none was to be found. Later that morning, she valiantly tried again and again to see if anything was available online, but no luck. I looked a few times, halfheartedly, but had the same experience. Demand far outstripped supply.
Not only that, but our system here is abysmal. Despite all the brilliant high tech innovators who live and work in Massachusetts, for some reason, the online portal was designed backwards. Instead of there being one centralized entry point, where you register and create your user profile, then search for appointments, you have to start with finding an appointment, then fill out all the forms, and then—and only then—if the appointment is still available, can you schedule it. At one point, my daughter got through almost all the pages of forms for an opening, only to have the system crash. This was not an uncommon experience.
My theory, which fortunately proved correct, was that I’d have my best chance of getting an appointment through my specialists at Boston Medical. The hospital was a major Covid treatment center for Boston during the big surges, and they serve a high risk urban community, so there was good reason to expect they’d get a supply. I had written my rheumatologist at the beginning of February to ask if there was any way he could help. He had actually written me back a week later, but I missed the message, only finding it late Thursday. I responded, and on Friday afternoon, got a message back from one of the nurses whom I’ve known for decades.
She informed me of a number to call to make an appointment. We had a couple more messages back and forth, and then she called me and explained that, now that I was in one of the eligible categories, because I was a BMC patient, I could schedule directly with them. Not only that, but they had just received a huge shipment of vaccines that had been delayed due to all the storms in the Midwest last week, and appointments were wide open. So, I thanked her profusely and called the number. After a short wait, I reached a scheduler who even gave me multiple options for Tuesday. Hallelujah!
I have heard stories from friends who have found their own workarounds. Several have gotten on waiting lists, expecting nothing, only to be surprised by a call a few days later about leftover doses. Others have found medical sites that were giving shots to 65+-year-olds even before that category opened up. Still others know front-line workers who will call them if there are leftover doses at day’s end.
It’s all about connections, right now. Even as I’ve worked my own, it shouldn’t have to be that way. You’d think the Powers That Be would be sure there were enough doses to meet demand before opening up a new eligible cohort of hundreds of thousands of citizens. From reports I saw, on Thursday, however, there were just 70,000 doses, which got snapped up, somehow, in-between website crashes. So those who cannot wait any longer—my social worker husband, now fully vaccinated as of Friday, thank goodness, sees clients every day in their homes, which increases his risk and mine—must be resourceful.
As more vaccine becomes available, and, I hope, the process is streamlined, this mishegas will be just another story to tell someday about how we got through the Great Covid Pandemic. To all of you who are waiting and searching and hoping to get your vaccination soon, I wish you patience, ingenuity, persistence, and luck.
The true miracle, worth remembering, is that powerful vaccines are already available, even if the roll-out has been choppy, for avoidable reasons. For that, for getting my first dose today—and most of all, for staying clear of Covid, as far as I know, for nearly a year—I am truly grateful.
Image: Bianca Ackermann