Coronavirus (Covid-19) and the vaccine: Long waits, confusing signup procedures and a lot of friends texting

Filed Under: Costs, Health plans, Patients

The vaccine delivery rollout in New York State, and nationwide, hasn’t exactly been smooth.

Long waits in line, people getting turned away, confusing web signup procedures, groups of coworkers texting frantically are all part of the story.

And yet there have been others who have swiftly gotten a vaccine they didn’t expect to get. In one case, at Montefiore New Rochelle hospital in New Rochelle, N.Y., just north of New York City, school officials and city workers who were not on the priority list for vaccines were able to get shots — until the State Department of Health stepped in and took over vaccines for the hospital because of the lapse, The New York Daily News reported.

On Sunday, New York State changed its rules for vaccines. “Across New York State, medical providers in recent weeks had the same story: They had been forced to throw out precious vaccine doses because of difficulties finding patients who matched precisely with the state’s strict vaccination guidelines — and the steep penalties they would face had they made a mistake,” The New York Times reported. “On Saturday, state health officials responded to the outcry over discarded vaccines by again abruptly loosening guidelines as coronavirus cases continued to rise.”

State rollout practices very different

State rollouts are very different. Florida, for example, has let people sign up by Eventbrite, but is way behind demand. Iowa is also way behind demand — and we have one source there who told us that the governor of Iowa has mandated that the 1A group (front-line health workers, mostly, and long-term care residents and staff) has to be fully vaccinated statewide before 1B (other health workers, teachers, etc.) can be vaccinated. That is still unclear at this point.

I have two friends who got vaccinated who are seemingly not in the proper order. One is a retired professor at New York University; he got an email saying he was eligible and went right in. One is a nurse practitioner in Iowa who is on furlough; she also got an email saying she was eligible and went right in.

Others had different experiences. A pediatric ICU nurse at a New York hospital said she was not scheduled immediately, while an acquaintance working in research at Dana Farber in Boston was scheduled immediately.

An employee at a Westchester County, N.Y., specialist’s office said she got her first shot on Thursday, Jan. 7. She said their practice had heard about making appointments earlier in December, perhaps because her boss is on staff at White Plains Hospital and New York Presbyterian.

She also said that anyone who has been vaccinated might be in the pool of people who are invited to sign up for overtime from their regular jobs to deliver vaccines – because staffing for this task would be on top of existing work at hospitals and other vaccination sites, which might well be understaffed for this task because of Covid pandemic matters.

“We were told the reason why the Board of Health is trying to figure out which nurses and doctors are getting them in what offices is so that they have people on per diem that could come in to help, actually, with the vaccine process,” she said. “So now that they know that our staff is vaccinated,  they can call us in that they need help. They’re going to need to call in people to help the process. So I think they’re trying to reach out to the people that they know, who may be called in.”

The need is for people who will sign up to do this work — and get paid by the Department of Health — to deliver vaccines, including the associated work of asking for health histories from soon-to-be-vaccinated people, and watching them for potential reactions, she said.

I also told her that our sources had explained to us that they needed to take to their appointment several things: Confirmation that they are eligible, confirmation of their appointment date, confirmation of where they work (a pay stub or photo ID) and a photo ID like a drivers license. She said: “I can I assure you, six of us went and not one of us was asked to show anything. I swear to you, and I and I was really kind of upset about that. I said to the woman, ‘We work in a private doctor’s office, you know, I don’t have an ID. Can I bring my paycheck stub?’ And  the woman said that that should be fine. But when I got there, they never  asked.”

Middle school teacher and intense networking

A teacher at a Westchester County middle school, speaking on condition of anonymity to preserve her job, said the superintendent of her system sent a message. She wrote in our closed Facebook group: “I just got a note from my superintendent that teachers schedule their own appts. Assuming larger districts may have teachers vaccinated in a central location. 1b is a large group they anticipate this phase lasting until mid April.”

I followed up with her by phone, and she said the superintendent gave some direction, but she and her co-workers spent most of Sunday texting and sharing information of how to sign up. “It’s a mishmosh of networking,” she said, adding that she has an appointment Wednesday at 8:45 A.M. in Valhalla, N.Y., and will have to take the day off work.

“When you sign up, it doesn’t say this is the signup for the covid vaccine,” she said. “It doesn’t say vaccine, it says ‘site of distribution.”

She said that technically signup doesn’t start until Monday, Jan. 11, but she and her coworkers were able to sign up on Sunday, Jan. 10. They texted back and forth on Sunday, sharing notes — though the site is klunky and not straightforward. “It took a bunch of us explaining by text today,” she said. “And I kept getting locked out.”

She said Sunday was “frenetic — a lot of teachers are trying to get on the site.”

Despite that, she said she had heard that police and firemen are refusing to get vaccinated, and maybe there is a surplus of vaccine —  perhaps also because there are more doses per vial than what was originally said by manufacturers.

“The other thing I’m having some guilt about is my dad,” she said. “He is only 70, but he has had Parkinson’s for 20 years. I think he should get it first. I am telling my parents to go on the site and see if you can get vaccinated — maybe he can get a doctor’s note. I’m young and in a school setting, but I feel that my dad is at much higher risk than me.”

She said at least 10 of her middle school colleagues were able to make appointments on Sunday for later in the week.

“Individual places are releasing appointments on different schedules,” she said. “They will say the site is full, but if you go back you can maybe find an appointment, or they will say ‘we will update you on Wednesday.'”

(Update, Jan. 11: She messaged me to say, “A few of my colleagues have already been vaccinated this morning at Phelps. Very organized all teachers in line! It’s a great day!!!”

A Bronx social worker and her mom

A social worker at a school in the South Bronx, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said she scheduled a Monday appointment for both herself and her mother, who is 80 and suffering from cancer. “Tomorrow both of us will go to the South Bronx Education Campus on St. Ann’s Avenue in the South Bronx,” she said.

She got a message on Sunday that she could sign up, and that people over 80 could sign up, on vaccinepod, a New York City site, for vaccines beginning Jan. 11.

So she signed up, and was actually given appointments for both herself and her mother on Sunday, Jan. 10. Then she canceled, panicking that “I jumped the line — I can’t do that” because she was actually eligible beginning Jan. 11. So she rescheduled for 3 p.m. in the South Bronx on Monday.

She said she was told that she would need to answer questions again in the morning, questions that she has already answered — “Fever, chills? Cancer? Medications?” She said she was told that she would arrive and answer questions in the morning, then get a bar code to get in.

“They said you can only come 5 minutes before your appointment,” she said, adding that she had seen reports of people waiting in line for hours. “I am worried about my mom — she can’t wait for 3 hours in the cold,” the social worker said.

She added that since she had given information on a Facebook group that she and I share, people had been messaging her and asking for further information and tips to schedule.

She assumes that they had the experience she had– she tried a number of sites, but could not get on any. Then she found vaccinepod, and realized she was getting through — but had a much better experience on laptop than on her phone. “There were a couple of ‘next’ buttons I couldn’t see on my phone screen,” she said, adding that she was doing two applications at the same time.

“I did go on the basic New York State site, and I couldn’t get through,” she said. “It said I was not eligible until the 11th.”

What was it actually like?

The employee at a Westchester County, N.Y., specialist’s office wrote in detail about receiving her vaccine at the Taylor Care Conference Center at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, N.Y. “You should prepare to wait in Line, even with your appointment,” she wrote. “Give yourself plenty of time- this will not be a quick experience….We received our vaccines starting with the dr on Dec 24 and the nurses this week. We were scheduled by the dept of health with set appointment times. Each of us waited in line for at least 2 HOURS.

“Another coworker went to Montefiore today and stood in line for close to 3 hours. This seems to be common, so I suggest being prepared for a long wait. We were not able to sit, and the halls were very crowded without much distancing. (My line went through two buildings and a courtyard.) This is a huge undertaking and it requires paperwork, vetting and registration (and that’s before you even get to the vaccination distribution room.)

“Then you need to answer health questions by the health professional giving you the vaccine to make sure you qualify medically, and then they review the potential side effects, and follow up directions. If you have any allergies to medication or a history of anaphylaxis, you will need to stay and be monitored after the vaccine for 30-60 minutes. You may also be asked to schedule your second dose 28 days later. We were also reminded to keep following all mask and social distancing guidelines.

“My arm was sore for 2 days, similar to a flu shot. Of the 6 of us who received the vaccine on or before Thursday, none of us experienced any other side effects.”

She added that the crowded line made her feel “the most unsafe I felt during this whole pandemic,” although everyone was masked.

After receiving her shot, she said, “Everyone is moved to a room where they schedule your next dose and those with a history of allergies or anaphylaxis need to sit and wait. They physically kept asking people to try and space themselves. There was no where to move”

How to do it

In New York City, this is the link that we got:

Vaccinepod.nyc.gov

From our previous reporting, we have this from a Westchester County occupational therapy practice.

Outside of the city, here’s an app that went live Tuesday, May 5:

Answer the questions & it will tell you if you are currently eligible to schedule appointment for vaccine. If you are; you may set a driving distance radius in your search to return all the vaccine distribution centers in your area.

Once you’ve located where you want to go, follow the prompts to get that center’s instructions on how to schedule an appointment. There are multiple providers and each has their own processes (and additional requirements) That’s where research really begins 🙂