Coronavirus (Covid-19) and the vaccine: Availability expands in New York, and a new flood of seekers enters the fray

Filed Under: Costs, Health plans, Patients

People with underlying conditions are eligible for the coronavirus vaccine in New York state tomorrow, Feb. 15. Today, Feb. 14, is the day that the online portals opened to such people for scheduling. And it was insane.

Sites crashed. Tempers frayed. The people who had been having trouble booking before are still having trouble booking. And the new arrivals are young and tech-savvy and determined — and they are relaying their best hints all over the internet.

Hundreds of people flocked to the New York vaccine-hunter Facebook pages to report of their triumphs. One woman got two appointments by working both her browser and a phone signup line. Others said they were stuck in a “virtual waiting room” after being told they were eligible, and then waiting for as much as 55 minutes to book online. “Got Jones Beach!” “Got Stony Brook!” “Got Aqueduct!”

One woman I know got an appointment for her elderly mom after what she said was a total of about 1,000 attempts over the course of weeks.

“I was using multiple phones to call and redial the hotline. I had an iPad, laptop and computer trying the sites. It’s frustrating but keep trying.”

Others couldn’t get in at all and gave up.

Who’s eligible and updates from  New York City

Here is the latest list of conditions for eligibility, ranging from cancer to kidney disease to hypertension to pregnancy. People wanting to sign up must agree that they qualify, and then take documentation with them to their appointment. That documentation could include a note from your doctor, but also apparently a screenshot from your doctor’s electronic portal will satisfy requirements. More information about this is expected later, with the appointments made today (Sunday, Feb. 14) for people to get vaccinated starting Monday, Feb. 15.

Mark Levine, head of the New York City Council health committee, Tweeted some important information on Sunday. His full thread on Twitter has good information in a concise manner, describing the biggest expansion of vaccine availability in the city. Much of what he says is applicable only in the city, but some is outside of the city too. Here’s the full thread.

“City-run vaccine hubs are now only running from Thursday-Sunday due to supply shortages. They generally post new appointments on Tues/Weds, and will allow people with underlying conditions to schedule by that point this week.

“Pharmacies in NY are restricted to vaccinating those aged 65+, so these locations are not yet an option for those who are younger with underlying conditions.

“There are three ways to document your underlying condition in NY:
* Medical record
* Letter from doctor
* Self-attestation

“The self-attestation option is critical for those who don’t have easy access to a doctor. It appears the State sites will require signing a certification, while for City-sites it will be a check-off in the on-line application.”

Switching browsers

People were having a hard time getting the sites to function. These tech-savvy newly eligible patients are probably aware of workarounds for klunky web sites and crashing browsers that are not known to 80-year-olds who are still trying to get their vaccine.

One patient advocate, Jen Horonjeff, chronicled her journey, and also told how she fought through: Essentially, she found the booking site in New York crashed. Determined to continue, she started on the Chrome browser, and then switched to Safari and back to Chrome.

“Update: I tricked it with a browser switch. Chrome said due to high volume they shut down registration. Safari you could make it farther, but it would get an error as you waited for your confirmation. So I pasted URL from Safari into Chrome to bypass the Chrome suspension…

“2/ So if you want to give that a whirl, open this URL in Chrome (or non-safari) https://apps2.health.ny.gov/doh2/applinks/cdmspr/2/counties?OpID=B9996975FF9F04BCE0530A6C7C166199”

A closed link becomes public

On one Facebook group, a woman wrote: “A lot of us have been lucky today with getting appointments – some using the links that start with apps like
https://apps3.health.ny.gov/…/appl…/cdmspr/2/counties…
A friend of mine just used it and now he’s saying he thinks it’s a scam – not understanding why suddenly we’re all able to get appointments – I understand his being concerned – anyone have any info on this? I’m going to call the number to check if it’s all legit – I got my appointment via the NYS site but my husband and sister using that apps3 link.”

Someone else chimed in: “It’s meant for their staff to be able to book appointments (not meant for the general public). But the links have been around since the beginning, only difference is now they will be wide spread so I don’t see them being around much longer.”

People who have been watching the vaccine rollout are noting that this series of “app3” and “app1” and “app5” links are new, which might mean that the state has upgraded its system to account for the new applicants.

Later in the day, those apps3 and similar links stopped working.

Taking to Twitter

Others breathlessly took to Twitter.

“New York Friends, if you haven’t gotten your Covid vaccine yet Rochester just got a bunch and are scheduling appts for now and all the way out to April! Schedule your appt here: https://apps5.health.ny.gov/doh2/applinks/cdmspr/2/counties?OpID=B999697600BA04BCE0530A6C7C166199”

“@OCGovNY @NYGovCuomo @NYGov @SNeuhausOC
There no appointments for covid vaccine appointments listed in Orange County New York!!!!!!!”

Steven Ferrari of The New York Daily News chimed in:

What you can do

Here’s an earlier post with some “What you can do” suggestions. We are adding more here. If you have suggestions, add to the comments below, or email us at jeanne@clearhealthcosts.com, or Tweet us @chcosts.

Note: The situation is changing rapidly, and we are not updating this daily. But the links here go to good sources of information that are updated more frequently — particularly the social media links below. Remember, nothing you put on the internet is ever really private, and nothing on those Facebook pages has the full force of government and regulation behind it, but there are a lot of people trying to solve the problem and pooling knowledge by crowdsourcing.

In New York, many people seem to be trying to book online. We are also seeing that many people have booked by calling the New York vaccine hotline from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. at 1-833-697-4829. You might have to keep trying.

On Feb. 14, with the opening of eligibility, many of the links were reporting “no appointments available” by noon on the apps2 or apps3 or apps5 links. But going to the previously existing “Am I Eligible” site, there were many appointments, at the Javits Center, at Stony Brook, Binghamton and many other locations.

One experienced appointment-getter has this tip: “Once you are eligible and go through the Am I Eligible questionnaire, click on the Westchester County link (https://apps2.health.ny.gov/…/appl…/cdmspr/2/counties…). On the hour and the half hour, they add new appointments as other people cancel. So at about 2 min past the hour, start refreshing that page and appointments will eventually show up.”

Rite-AidWalgreen’s and CVS drugstore chains are vaccinating people in some locations. There are online signup forms, where you must certify eligibility and then select a location.  There are frustratingly few appointments, though it seems from online tips that appointments may open up at unexpected times. Some have said they found luck overnight — one said right after midnight.

At Walgreens, some users report, you need to make an account either on desktop or on the app, and then you can see if you can book. They reportedly open new Walgreens appointments at midnight and sometimes around 7 a.m. CVS seems to release around 6 a.m., according to one report.

In addition to the state and city sites, and the big chains, a number of smaller chains or independent stores are getting vaccine allocations. There doesn’t seem to be a centralized location where one can learn of this — in fact we are hearing that people often learn of such a site, seek to book — and find all the appointments are gone. But if that pharmacy has received vaccine before, it is likely to get more when supplies ease up. Ask the people who work there if they know and can share scheduling hints.

Here’s a group based in Westchester County where volunteers are booking appointments for others. There are a number of similar groups — sometimes they are findable in groups like the social media ones listed below.

Some people reported that they got an appointment because they were contacted by a hospital or medical practice where they were registered as a patient. For example, a Stanford patient was vaccinated there, and an acquaintance of his signed up as a patient at Stanford too.

Similarly, people who live outside of New York City but are patients at a New York City hospital are sometimes able to get a vaccine at that hospital, although some city hospitals are only vaccinating city residents. Some people said they were able to sign up via their patient portal, in this case the Epic “MyChart.”

We have learned that plugging into social media is an option for many. We’re not endorsing any of these strategies or pages, but rather reporting on what we are seeing others do. There is a lot of information here, and because it’s crowdsourced, it has something of a confirmation backcheck.

We have noticed that on some of the Facebook groups, you can find people or groups who are volunteering to help others find appointments, but we don’t know much about how that works — for example, do you want to give your birth date and email to a stranger?

 

As with many Facebook pages, you can join (if you are accepted) and then ask a question, or search for your topic (“Long Island” and “Westchester” are searches on the New York pages).

You can also look at the “Announcements” tab at the top of the page, or at pinned posts, to see what the other members of the community thought were interesting.

Here’s a New Jersey Twitter feed. Here’s a New Jersey-focused Facebook group.

Here’s a New York-focused Facebook group. with 1,800 members as of Feb. 14.

Here’s another New York Facebook group, with 4,000 members as of Feb. 14. The page has a link to “New York Vaccination Volunteer Angels,” and other similar announcements perhaps of interest to those who are making appointments. Again, we cannot recommend or investigate, but this is one of several groups of people performing this service.

This is a Westchester County, N.Y., Facebook, group, for the suburb north of New York City. About 1,000 members as of Feb. 14.

Here’s another New York Facebook group, with 1,100 members as of Feb. 14.

Here’s a Long Island Facebook group, with 3,200 members as of Feb. 14.

Here’s a resources and tips thread for New York on Facebook.

Here’s a compendium of links for “vaccine finders,” who say they’re not really helping people jump the line, but rather helping people make sure that no vaccines are wasted at the end of a day, if patients don’t show up and vaccines will need to be trashed. It looks to us as if there are all sorts of “how to find vaccine” tips that do include jumping the line, with inside information, going beyond the waste phenomenon that is the reason cited for these groups. This is the New York “vaccine finders” Facebook page.

Here’s a New York volunteer effort, NycVaccinelist, that shows available appointments using a combination of automated checks and manual checks by volunteers. Refresh often.

Neighborhood Facebook and Twitter groups have replaced the force of government knowledge for many. It’s awkward that people believe Facebook more than local government, but there you have it.

A signup for leftover vaccines has sprung up. Called HiDrB, it has an all-star cast of founders and advisors. We’re not sure how well it works. We know people who have signed up and heard nothing.

We are hearing a lot about the new Twitter feed @Turbovax, which was built by a programmer. It seems to scrape the New York State website and deliver a report on how many appointments are available, and gives a link. It seems promising, though we don’t know anyone who’s gotten a vaccine from them — so maybe it’s a matter of timing. On Sunday, Feb. 14, the programmer turned off the bot that was doing the scraping, reflecting the stress on the servers from people who are looking for appointments.

Another Twitter feed, @Nycshotslots, has updates. There are other similar locally focused Twitter feeds.

A number of people suggested that when you go on a site and find available appointments, you should not seek to book the first one, but rather choose one of the dates further out on the calendar. They said they think there’s a lot of competition for those early appointments, and sometimes — depending on the site — when you get done putting in your insurance information, that appointment has vanished because someone else snapped it up.

In addition to the “leftovers” workaround, we are hearing that some people are able to secure a spot by signing up to work at a vaccine site. Not all workers are eligible, but some apparently are. In New York, this state employment site announces: “New York State is accepting applications for its Vaccination Sites (Clinical and Non Clinical Support Needed)

“We are in immediate need of individuals to fulfill clinical and non-clinical responsibilities related to the public distribution of COVID-19 vaccines at various NYSDOH Point of Distribution (POD) sites. Apply online at www.vaccinejobsNY.com or https://careers.execu-search.com/jobs/263763.

“Clinical Jobs Only: Registered NursesLPNS”

Proof of residency seems to vary from vaccination site to vaccination site. We heard of one person who was turned away, and another who said: “My mom is a partial-year NYS resident with a license from the other state. She brought a wide assortment of bills and documents to the appointment to prove residence. The Walgreens team did not seem to care much what the documentation was, just as long as they saw a couple of things with her name and NY address. If you have bank statements or pay stubs or any bill where your name and the address are printed together, I think you’re likely to be OK.”

More details from our former partner Gothamist.com, which has some duplicative information and some new info. Read more. 

(Update, Feb. 15: A helpful poster on a Facebook page offers this list of links that will take you to the “virtual waiting room” for the listed vaccine sites. They don’t seem to be working today — they are showing no appointments, on a spot check — but might work tomorrow.

⭐️ Direct links to the NYS operated vaccination sites (from the Am I Eligible? website): ⭐️
Javits
SUNY Polytech Utica
State Fair Syracuse
Courtesy of another member!

Here’s an earlier post with some “What you can do” suggestions.

For more of our vaccine coverage, click here.