Vaccines are being doled out in dribbles if you can access a link that works, and even then appointments fill up before most people can complete the online application. Unlike buying a concert ticket or booking a flight, vaccine reservation systems don't lock in your spot while you fill in the remaining questionnaire. Instead, you have to go through the trouble of filling in 5-7 pages of information before even reaching the final page to select a time and location. Once you get to that final page, slots are gone. It feels like a cruel joke, just like the name President Trump gave his national vaccination program, “Operation Warp Speed.”
National experts say freezers are full of vaccines that can't be moved fast enough. If that's the case, I would like to know where they are. Here in Miami-Dade, Jackson Health System CEO Carlos Migoya told The Miami Times the inconsistent stop-and-start approach to making vaccines available to the public in small numbers is caused by not knowing with what frequency vaccines will be delivered to them and when. And yet, in an email to the senior writer of our Biscayne Times sister paper, a Jackson spokesperson said they were “contacting 10,000 Miami-Dade County residents age 65 and older who have been patients in the past year to offer appointments ... if we have additional inventory after those slots are filled, we will open appointments.”
A retired WPLG colleague of mine proudly posted on Facebook the day he and his wife received a vaccine last week. When I asked him how he accessed a vaccine so quickly, he said his UHealth doctor called to offer them the vaccine.
My mother's neighbor received a vaccine too. She said a kind Jackson Hospital nurse who lived in the same condo complex invited her to come for a vaccine.
So, while some people have to hunt, scrape and claw for a vaccine in a deeply flawed, inequitable, inconsistent and disconnected decentralized system, others are getting personal invitations.
My parents are both age 92, with Alzheimer's and dementia respectively, and living alone in their own home with a caregiver who comes in daily. Nobody has called to offer them a vaccine. They are not connected to the Jackson/UHealth system. Their primary care physician does not have the vaccine. I've been stalking Miami-Dade County, Jackson and Baptist Hospital websites all week to no avail. The cat-and-mouse game is a full-time job.
Accessing a vaccine for two people in their 90s shouldn't be that hard. At their age, they should be at the front of the line. Younger, healthier, more lucid seniors with connections or the time and determination to enter “The Hunger Games” arena are getting their shots. A tech-savvy grandchild doesn't hurt either.
The truth is, I don't begrudge seniors who are getting invitations by phone. That's the benevolent, humane thing to do. We should be seeing more of that. The trouble is that vaccines are not being placed in enough hands. Providing vaccines to every primary care physician would probably be more effective than strictly providing vaccines to a few hospitals and county government, which don't have the infrastructure to vaccinate our enormous senior population.
Don't expect CVS, Walgreens and Publix to do any better. Anyone who has had to stand in line to pick up a prescription knows most of these storefronts are not staffed to vaccinate hordes of people, and their footprint in urban Black communities is much smaller than in more affluent suburbs. That's why bringing Black churches into the fold as venues for drive-through vaccinations, as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced last week, is a good idea. I don't often see eye to eye with DeSantis, but this time I do.
The answer is a centralized effort from Washington to move vaccines into the hands of far more medical professionals who can reach out to their patients, while public health officials work to do the same in parallel.
To make matters worse, seasonal residences who weren't planning to fly down to escape the cold this year are now packing their bags. Since states up north are following CDC guidelines (Florida is not) and just beginning to vaccinate seniors age 75 and up, the younger set is deciding Florida's infection rate of 10% isn't so bad if they can get a vaccine! Last week, DeSantis said he was just fine with that.
“I don't think we want to get in a situation where we're trying to say, ‘Oh, no, you go back to Rhode Island, or you go back to Minnesota or wherever,’” DeSantis said. I'm sure the snowbirds aren't bad for our tourist-driven economy either.
Unfortunately, these younger, wealthier seniors also will be crowding our already overcrowded “Hunger Games,” so expect the battle to access a vaccine to get even uglier and more competitive.
Just a few weeks ago, Jackson Hospital was holding press events to vaccinate superstars on camera to inspire people to want a vaccine. Remember that? It seems so long ago. Little did they know people would be beating down their door.