“I had a miracle.”
This is how William Slay, a 92-year-old man in Cypress, Texas outside of Houston, describes his struggle to get a coronavirus vaccine, a quest that finally paid off last Tuesday.
This involved weeks of phone calls and emails to the governor’s office, his county health department, hospitals and pharmacies and doctors’ offices.
As he recalled, “In each case, the response you received from a living person was, ‘We don’t have a vaccine and we don’t know when we will receive our next shipment.’ And I was like, “Can you put my name on a waiting list?” And they would say, “We don’t have a waiting list,” and I would say, “How will I know when it’s available? And they were like, ‘Well, you’ll just have to keep checking.’ “
Ultimately, Slay got out of this nightmarish and frustrating loop thanks to a combination of luck, ingenuity, and an outsider’s generosity. Her story is just one example of how the vaccine remains surprisingly unavailable to some of America’s most vulnerable, and how often older people need someone younger – and more tech-literate. – to help them get vaccinated.
In Slay’s case, he published an article about his predicament on NextDoor, the hyperlocal social networking service for neighborhoods founded in 2008.
His plea: “I am 93 years old; have heart disease with a pacemaker; have diabetes; i’m recovering from prostate cancer … but i couldn’t get any information about vaccination at all … i’m an endangered species. “
Maureen Taylor, a 78-year-old woman who was browsing NextDoor that day, saw Slay’s post and was moved by it. So she sent him a private message with his contact details early last week, recalls Taylor in an interview. Taylor was due to receive his vaccination at an emergency care center the next day, Jan.5.
Taylor told Slay that she would ask the staff if they didn’t have an appointment.
“In the meantime, the manager has come to see me,” Taylor said. “She said, ‘Well, we have one – can he be here in 30 minutes?'”
Just like that, Slay said, he got his first dose of the Moderna vaccine. He is expected to receive his second dose on January 29, the same day Taylor receives his.
“Maureen saved my life,” said Slay, who called her an “angel”.
But Slay is still troubled by the fact that his story would be difficult for others in his age group to replicate – and by what he called “the sloppy way” vaccines are distributed in Texas and the rest. from the country.
“It was absolutely chaos,” Slay told The Daily Beast by phone Monday. “Apparently it was like they felt like they had it as far away as pharmacies and hospitals, that it would take care of itself. They just had no plan.
Neither Governor Greg Abbott’s office nor the state’s health department responded to requests for comment on Monday. The Harris County Department of Public Health also did not provide comment.
In any case, Texas is not alone.
Lucy Caldwell, a 33-year-old woman who works in Washington, DC, as a political strategist and technologist, told the Daily Beast that she helped her 81-year-old Arizona-based grandmother get the vaccine after have encountered similar problems. .
“She’s a lot more tech savvy than most people decades younger, but Vax’s state-run website is glitchy, expired, and quite difficult to navigate, even for me,” Caldwell tweeted on Monday, then telling the Daily Beast that “the whole is a complete cluster”.
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“I stepped in to help because the craziness of this website made her think maybe she was doing something wrong,” Caldwell said, adding that although she was able to make an appointment for her grandmother, she knows that many more across the country still need help. .
“It’s really pathetic overall. These states have had months to prepare for this, ”Caldwell said. “It’s horrible to think that a poorly designed website makes the difference between a person – especially elderly Americans – being able to resume a normal life.”
Neither Governor Greg Doucey’s office nor the Arizona Department of Health Services responded to a request for comment.
Seniors in Sarasota, Florida told The Daily Beast that the different ways to sign up for dates online were just too much to handle. Toni Goldberg, 84, said she had been trying for weeks to log in and get a spot through the county Eventbrite, but also across many other Florida counties.
“I’ll go anywhere if it’s a reasonable driving distance,” Goldberg said. “I’m a little desperate.”
“I understand there must be a queue,” she added. “But I mean in seconds –seconds– they are exhausted. I did all the right things, I just got stuck with the system itself.
Older Americans struggling to navigate vaccine registration technology has been a reported problem statewide. In many cases, their slightly younger peers are one step ahead of them.
“The 65-year-olds are taking the places that people in the 90s and 80s are trying to book,” said Dottie Garner, an 87-year-old Sarasota resident.
Garner told the Daily Beast on Monday that she was only able to secure a date after enlisting the help of five separate family members across the country, able to navigate a system she described as complicated and confusing.
“They all came to my rescue,” said Garner, who received his first shot last Wednesday. “I live alone, so I couldn’t get one in a nursing home. I have a caregiver who – once I got the appointment – came with me. The site was extremely well organized, but getting the appointment was the problem.
In an email Tuesday, G. Steve Huard, the public information officer for the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota, said his department was “aware of citizens’ frustration” with the planning system and ” was working to make the planning process as smooth as possible. possible.”
“We are currently evaluating options for a new reservation system for initial vaccines and second doses,” he added. “We anticipate opportunities to lead through clinics, area-specific clinics and additional opportunities for all members of designated priority groups in the future as more vaccines become available.
Back in Texas, Slay echoed Garner’s frustration, saying the large numbers of people over the age of 65 made it harder for those his age to find places before filling up. And that was set to get even worse after Tuesday, when the Trump administration recommended states relax guidelines for vaccinating all people 65 years of age or older. Until now, this has only been the case in certain states, such as Texas and Florida.
Slay admitted he was lucky he understood how to use social media, email, his cell phone – and still being able to get to his date on just 30 minutes’ notice.
On this point, Taylor agreed, saying – in Texas at least – the rollout of the vaccine “has been so mismanaged.”
The only silver lining, she told the Daily Beast, is that she knows many others who have used unofficial platforms “as a means of communication” for where to get the vaccine.
“It’s the people who help the people,” Taylor said. “Adopt someone like me and help your neighbor.”
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