With millions of older Americans eligible for covid-19 vaccines and limited supplies, many continue to describe a frantic and frustrating search to secure a shot, beset by uncertainty and difficulty.
The efforts to vaccinate people 65 and older have strained under the enormous demand that has overwhelmed cumbersome, inconsistent scheduling systems.
The struggle represents a shift from the first wave of vaccinations — health care workers in health care settings — which went comparatively smoothly. Now, in most places, elderly people are pitted against one another, competing on an unstable technological playing field for limited shots.
“You can’t have the vaccine distribution be a race between elderly people typing and younger people typing,” said Jeremy Novich, a clinical psychologist in New York City who has begun a group to help people navigate the technology to get appointments. “That’s not a race. That’s just cruel.”
While the demand is an encouraging sign of public trust in the vaccines, the challenges facing seniors also speak to the country’s fragmented approach, which has left many confused and enlisting family members to hunt down appointments.
“It’s just maddening,” said Bill Walsh, with AARP. “It should be a smooth pathway from signing up to getting the vaccine, and that’s just not what we’re seeing so far.”
Glitchy websites, jammed phone lines and long lines outside clinics have become commonplace as states expand who’s eligible — sometimes triggering a mad dash for shots that can sound more like trying to score a ticket for a music festival than obtaining a lifesaving vaccine.
After being inundated, some public health departments are trying to hire more staff members to handle their vaccination hotlines and specifically target seniors who may not be able to navigate a complicated online sign-up process.
“Just posting a website and urging people to go there is not a recipe for success,” said Walsh.
Like many other seniors, Colleen Brooks, 85, had trouble sorting through the myriad online resources about how to find the vaccine where she lives, on Vashon Island in the Puget Sound near Seattle.
“It was an overwhelming amount of information,” she said. “I knew it was here someplace, but it wasn’t easy to find out how to get it.”
After making calls, Brooks eventually got a tip from a friend who had spotted the vaccines being unloaded at their town pharmacy. When she dropped by her health clinic to inquire about how to sign up, it happened they were giving out shots that same day.
“That was totally serendipitous for me, but I actually personally know several seniors who just kind of gave up,” said Brooks.
Finding out how to get a vaccine appointment was more straightforward for Gerald Kahn, 76, who lives in Madison, Connecticut.
Kahn got an email notice from the state’s vaccine registration system telling him to make an ap