In Search of the Shot

By | February 18, 2021

Too little covid vaccine and too great a demand: That’s what KHN readers from around the country detail in their often exasperating quest to snag a shot, although they are often clearly eligible under their local guidelines and priority system. Public health officials say the supply is growing and will meet demand in several months, but, for now, readers’ experiences show how access is limited. Some savvy readers report no problem getting in line for the vaccine, but others say that balky application processes and lack of information have stymied their efforts. Their unedited reports are a good snapshot of the mixed situation around the country.

— Feb. 17 —

My 73 year old father signed up through the City of Houston Health Department. He was given an appointment on 01/16/21. He went to get vaccinated, waiting hours in line OUTSIDE, only to be told they had run out of vaccines. They told people to either wait longer in the cold to give their names, or to call them back later to reschedule. We called the health department on three occasions and left messages, only to never receive a call back. 

A couple of weeks later, over 1.5 hours on hold (after we had two other calls dropped after over an hour on hold), and finally getting through, we were told they had already rescheduled everyone and they were out of vaccines. They verified they never contacted him to reschedule and that he had an appointment. After speaking with two supervisors, being refused to be spoken to or be called back by a manager, I was told they are overwhelmed and cannot handle the call volume, nor did they have any way of knowing who they vaccinated on the 16th in order to call outstanding individuals to reschedule. I asked if they could register him for the next incoming shipment, and they said “No, they don’t have any system in place to be able to do that”. They made no efforts to make the situation right, even though they get new shipments every week. 

The local health departments are clearly ill-equipped to be managing this process, and local officials have sadly used this as a political platform, rather than addressing it as a public health emergency, for which they should be ashamed. Vaccines should be routed to established health centers, or logistics experts (CVS, Costco, etc.) instead. My father who has heart problems is now on over five vaccine waitlists for the broader county area. I work in healthcare, and this is abysmal. 

— Beaumont, Texas

— Feb. 17 —

Read an article in Sunday’s SF Chronicle that mentioned (Feb 7). There were appointments available at the Moscone Center. Snagged two.

First jab this afternoon — in and out in around 30 minutes. Very smooth process. Minimal waiting in lines (though long walks for frail folks).

Told several 65+ y/o friends about the site.

Looking late this afternoon, more appointments available.

— Oakland, California

I am 73 years old and obese. I signed up with my county — Contra Costa County in California. I was told I would hear from someone but have not.

— 73-year-old
Walnut Creek, California

Lifespan of Greater Rochester Inc. is a nonprofit serving older adults in Rochester and Finger Lakes area of NYS. We have 1,700 older adults on a list. We are trying (in vain) to get appointments for them by trolling sites. At most, we manage to get a handful of appointments each day. NYS just opened eligibility to people of ANY age with co-morbidities which is only going to make it more difficult to get appointments for older adults. 

— Rochester, New York

Success story! We heard from friends that Moscone Center in San Francisco is giving Pfizer vaccines. Signed up immediately, and got the first one a few days later. It’s a huge building, great ventilation, very few people. Lines very short. Lots of helpful people to guide you to the right place.

— 73-year-old
San Francisco

Hello, I’m submitting for my in-laws, who are in their early 70s, and live in Sonoma County, CA. One does not have a primary care doctor and one does. The one who does could not figure it out from her provider. He had no information for her.

The daily updates on the website for Sonoma County said to call different providers, but they would ask my in-laws multiple questions because they are 3rd parties that find your identity through other means to set up an account, and then after all that they don’t have any appointments. We were finally able to get my mother-and-law an appointment where we work at UCSF because she was a patient here for a specialty need. My father-in-law is still out of luck.

In CA the process is systematically biased against the population of older adults they are trying to target now that longterm care and healthcare workers are largely done. Anything that is all on-line or requires multiple complicated phone calls is going to be difficult for this population.

Meanwhile where my parents, in their late 70s, live in Fort Worth, TX, they signed up on-line and got appointments pretty quickly, and were even pulled out of line when they showed up because they were older and taken to the front of the line. They have both gotten 2 doses.

— San Francisco


— 83-year-old
Oregon City, Oregon

Unable to find vaccination administration events in my area. Local health department only takes appointments weekly after 10 am on Fridays. Appointments are booked up through February 27th. Local hospital is not administering the vaccine because “Virginia vaccine administration guidelines.” Community Health offices vaccines will not be available until next month. Vaccine at CVS pharmacy not available in my town. Towns that are administering are fully booked. No Walgreens in my town. Food City does not have any vaccines available for first round.

— 68-year-old
Pounding Mill, Virginia

My wife and I are both Kaiser Members. I was told by 2 reputable friends about their getting vaccinated through Kaiser in Moscone Convention ctr SF. I called Kaiser (the day after their vaccination) and got very nice help to register (my wife and myself) for being notified of any upcoming scheduled appointments. HOWEVER NO appointments were available at that time. I asked if our ages were consistent with the availability, and was told that our ages were consistent with getting an appointment.

— 74-year-old
San Francisco

— Feb. 16 —

I am a cancer survivor that is 70 years old and live in Arkansas. I was told to sign up with a pharmacy in January in order to get vaccinated. While my name was taken, they have never called me and when I check with the pharmacy or go to the state website to check other pharmacy locations, no one is giving vaccinations in NW Arkansas. My sister checked with friends that also are 70+ in NW Arkansas and their experience is the same. One wonders just who in Arkansas is being vaccinated.

— 70-year-old
Gentry, Arkansas

I got through to the appointment desk at my HMO and answered various questions. The stopper was whether I had any cold symptoms. Yes, winter sniffles from allergies etc.; I have a cat, there’s dust, I’ve been shut up in my house for months now, so I have the sniffles. Sorry, she said, no Covid shot for you. I’m 76 and been a member of that HMO for almost 50 years. I told her that and said, Is my HMO saying I can’t get a life-saving vaccine because of SNIFFLES? I had an inspiration. Gee, I exclaimed, my cold has gone away! I even threw the Kleenex box away! She understood what was happening, backed up in the questionnaire, indicated no cold symptoms. That freed up the appointment system. I got my first shot in a city 1.5 hrs away, but at least I got it.

— 76-year-old
San Francisco

Spent more than 24 hours overall searching and refreshing pages in San Diego and finally scored my first vaccine appointment. At that appointment, there was no opportunity to schedule a second shot. We were told to use the same process and hope for the best. What is the impact on public health for those of us who never successfully are able to schedule the second vaccine? The supersite was efficient and incredibly well staffed, but the websites are absolute crap.

— 66-year-old
Encinitas, California

I had no problems signing up or getting my 1st shot even though I live in a community that exists over 3 counties and therefore 3 different local county public health departments with 3 different systems of administrations. I got in early to the county public health system and did not try to snag the first open appointment. That’s a frustrating strategy.

The local media…newspaper and TV stations and radios…have done a terrible job in explaining that knowing what county you live in is extremely important. And the public health departments are similarly defective. Now the “system” is getting an overlay of regional vaccine administrators: the 2 hospital systems and free standing pharmacies and pharmacies in grocery stores. As a result, if you live in Lansing, you can register to get a vaccine with your county, 2 hospital systems and at least 5 pharmacies: CVS, Walgreens, Kroger, Meijer, Walmart.

— 69-year-old
Lansing, Michigan

My wife & I live in Will County, Illinois, and are both over 70 (72 & 75). We sign up wherever we can, but it appears to be a waste of time, no number is assigned, only that they will contract us when doses are available. Walgreen just refers you to the CDC website. Our primary care physician tells us that we will be contacted when the Dupage Medical Group starts vaccinating their patients. The only person I know that has gotten the first dose is my sister, and she lives in Indiana.

— Frankfort, Illinois

I went on the state’s website as soon as it was advertised for people over 65. Within an hour, all appointments were booked for January and February (of course). However, website did not make that clear and kept giving other site options. After a day or two of struggling on the website, I called and after 4 hours wait, someone told me, they would be opening up more appointments within the next few days so keep checking the website. Countless hours later, there was nothing. Then magically, more appointments opened up at 9:00 am one day. I tried to make an appointment twice, and the system just kept clocking, until it finally read no appointments available for that age group. Within 30 minutes, I was told, there were no appointments left (of course). 

I try every other day, but to no avail, such a waste of time. The process and website is horrible. There’s no plan and apparently not enough doses for the 65 and over. Why do they not just say that and save us all time. I hear other states are vaccinating 65+, but not Arizona. Did Ducey just not order enough doses? I so feel for those without a computer, without transportation (Glendale arena is very far away) or without computer knowledge to navigate the system The plan to let states come up with their own plan, fend for themselves, with no funding, is no plan at all.

— 65-year-old

My grandmother has been waiting to hear from Kaiser regarding when she can be vaccinated. She is 90. It’s been 3 weeks of waiting. She went to CVS near her neighborhood and they told her to go online to sign up. But she doesn’t have internet, a cell, or a computer. 

— Los Angeles

— Feb. 12 —

I’m 65 and eligible for the vaccine. But I belong to an independent medical group, and many of the big vaccinators here are big medical groups. When I call my doctor, he tells me that they are waiting for a clinic, that he has no vaccine. The touted “mass vaccination site” at Cal Expo is barely used. When I hear there’s vaccine available at various hospitals, pharmacies and clinics, when I log on there are no appointments available. It’s vaccine for the privileged and members of the big medical groups. Everyone else loses out.

— 65-year-old
Sacramento, California

I am trying to get my 86-year-old mother vaccinated in Manhattan, NYC. Aside from the shortage, I am very angry at the hospitals and other vaccination sites for their horrible, inconsiderate websites, which are making the anxiety worse. Very simple things could be done to make them kinder. At present, you end up going in circles. For example: NorthwellHealth’s facilities are near her apartment. After going to the NYC covid page, I select one of their hospitals and click to their site. When they do not have any vaccine, they have no information on their covid page about 1st vaccine appointments. None. There is a button for making appointments, which leads you to making regular appointments with doctors. There should be a big button on the page you land on from the NYS listing that says MAKE A VACCINATION APPOINTMENT, even if there are no appointments. Some of the other sites make you fill out the forms before telling you that there are no vaccines. And you can’t just do it once. You have to do it over and over again. 

My sister and I are trying to do this for her. The fact that you MUST go thru the internet is pushing the elderly, those who need the vaccine the most, to periphery. But, at least, they could make the websites friendly and helpful. We’re a country where we spend more money and time making sure people know how to drink coke than they do helping people understand healthcare. This is a systematic problem that should be improved. There are marketing people out there who know how to interact with the public, but the healthcare system chooses not to use them.

— New York

Yesterday I experienced the good and the bad of the vaccine rollout.  My 95-year-old mother endured a one hour, twenty minute ordeal mostly standing outside 380 W MacArthur Kaiser in Oakland, thankfully a wheelchair was offered and very much appreciated.

We were there 15 minutes early for the 10:15 appt. and finished at 11:20. The whole operation seemed clunky and bureaucratic, think of standing in a long line at a rental car company.

Now to my almost dreamlike experience gliding through the Moscone Center in SF, arriving about 25 minutes early for my 5:45 appt. I was immediately checked in and escorted to the vaccination booth, the nurse checked me out on her screen asked me the routine questions jabbed my arm gave me my 5:45 sticker and sent me to observation area.  After my morning in Oakland I’d love to take my mom to Moscone for her second shot but as far as I can tell Kaiser doesn’t seem to allow that.

— Oakland, California

I’m a stage 4 cancer survivor and may have long-term heart and lung effects from the treatments I went through. I’m 44 and live in Denver. It’s unclear which vaccine group I fall into. Some states, such as New York, prioritize any cancer survivor, but Colorado only considers people who have been in treatment for the past month. Also, they want you to have two high-risk conditions — how are those defined? Do I qualify? Do my doctors have any input on that?

My oncologist and my primary care doctor have no word on when I might get vaccinated. My health system’s website says if you have an online account, you’re already in their system and they will inform you when you’re eligible. I do not know if that takes into account my medical history.

I’ve been to four pharmacies so far in my area; only one has had vaccines, and they did have a list on paper to call if they wound up with extras. I also signed up online with a couple of health care systems (Centura, National Jewish) for notifications; only one asked about medical conditions upon sign-up.

So, at this rate, I’m guessing: spring? Summer? Will I be treated as a healthy adult and be the last vaccinated?

— 44-year-old

Checked the Sacramento County website on Feb. 3. Found a link to a vaccination clinic at our neighborhood Safeway. Made an appointment for Feb. 6, at which time I received my first dose. Within minutes of being vaccinated, I received an email confirming an appointment for the second dose in 28 days.

— Sacramento, California

We heard the local center would allow people to sign up at 3 p.m. on a Sunday. My husband and I were refreshing our respective computers every five seconds waiting for the portal to open. We snagged appointments via EventBrite on the same day, same hour. When my husband and I went for our first shot, we stood in line for roughly 1½ hours outside, in the sun and heat, before we got inside the county health office, which administered the shot. Most of the other people in line were older and/or frail, with walkers and in wheelchairs. The county staff did their best to make them comfortable, which wasn’t much due to the logistics of the operation. The second shot was a breeze — in and out in about 25 minutes, including the mandatory 15-minute wait after the inoculation. I have a friend who is 80 years old, a three-time cancer survivor, and still can’t get an appointment and has tried numerous times.

— Lakewood Ranch, Florida

I signed up with the Kalamazoo County Health Department in Michigan. It was just a couple of weeks, I think, before they sent the application to sign up for the appointment. I had a choice of two days and three time spans with first, second and third choice and was asked if I needed any assistance. I then was emailed an appointment. When I got there, a policeman was directing traffic and giving instructions to stay in the car until five minutes before my appointment. It seemed less. I went through several stops very fast. The parking lot had so many cars and I had to wait 30 minutes after my injection. And, still, in 45 minutes I was driving down the street and also had my second appointment made. 

They reminded me days before my appointment, the day before my appointment and the morning of my appointment. So fast, so efficient and so many people there that there was no time to do anything but get done what had to be done. AMAZING planning and amazing workers and volunteers.

— 77-year-old
Kalamazoo, Michigan

Maryland covid distribution is a true mess. There is no central registration site. The state has a site that lists many providers, most of which do not have the vaccine. One of the large statewide vaccine sites, Six Flags America, does not allow you to sign up for the vaccine. Almost all the sites listed on the state’s website indicated they do not have the vaccine.

— 68-year-old
Ellicott City, Maryland

It’s terrible here in the county for Tier 2. That includes all the educators and everyone over 70. The appointment software company they chose to use did nothing to change their program to account for thousands daily and hourly trying to get an appointment.

I eventually was able to get my first shot. I still was not able to use the information that the Carson City Health and Human Services was putting in the news. I noodled around on the internet and discovered a notice that a drugstore (Walgreens) and a drugstore within a supermarket (Smith’s Food and Drug) were being sent the Moderna vaccine and were taking appointments starting the next day. I tried Walgreens but I don’t shop there and could not enter its system. I tried Smith’s, and it was so simple anyone could get on it. I made an appointment so easily for the next morning. Four days ago, I received an email from Kroger, the parent company of Smith’s, telling me the day and time for my second dose. 

Each city, county and state seem to have surprisingly different ways of putting out information, where and how the vaccine is delivered and administered. I do think it is still a logistics issue that was not anticipated by our former government officials.

— 78-year-old
Carson City, Nevada

I signed up for a vaccine several weeks ago with the county health department. I’m 78, living in Albuquerque. My registration was acknowledged but nothing further. The county program appears to be in chaos.

— 78-year-old
Albuquerque, New Mexico

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