Until now, the vaccine rollout in America has been a nightmare. In Florida it has been an embarrassment. (You might remember my column about getting on a list with the Health Department to get a COVID 19 vaccine appointment in Florida. It turned out that list was meaningless.)
Talbot County has recently vaccinated a number of its citizens. Its Tuesday briefing provided good information about access, but I could feel the frustration of Talbot citizens trying to get the vaccine.
But at least Maryland is attempting to distribute the vaccine fairly, then there is Florida.
To date, 39,000 non-Florida residents have been vaccinated. That’s right, 39,000! 39,000 would have vaccinated all this county’s senior citizens, educational, and essential workers; and all of Talbot County! But for reasons that we can only surmise, Florida became a popular vaccination destination for wealthy Argentinians, Canadian residents, and who knows who else (with Uncle Sam footing the bill). Just recently, Florida restricted the vaccine to residents and “snow birds.”
In my Florida county, vaccines have been distributed by privilege. An exclusive country club and gated community in Key Largo, Ocean Reef, mysteriously vaccinated 1200 residents (which is incredible given that many are International residents, and all Key West was given fewer than 1300 total doses). Florida is investigating how they “jumped the line.”
In Key West, the Health Department distributed the vaccines to their friends and relatives. There is still no roadmap for nonaffiliated qualified residents to receive the vaccine. Vaccine distribution to the privileged has been reported everywhere. Houston and other states are investigating “International Vaccine Vacations” and other states report unqualified people being vaccinated due to “connections.”
Another frustration for me has been watching people get vaccinated on TV as if they are providing a public service. Vice President Pence, Vice President Harris, and President Biden took a leadership position by doing so. But seriously, local leaders, celebrities, reporters, give me a break. I would get on TV in a bathing suit if I could get the vaccine. That would be a true “profile in courage.”
Back to Florida. Publix (a regional grocery store and pharmacy chain) is now distributing COVID 19 vaccines throughout Florida (to those over 65). This is how it works. At 6 a.m. on a pre-announced date, the Publix COVID 19 appointment website goes live. To prevent the system from crashing, a limited number of users are allowed access. The rest of us wait in the queue, hoping that we will be able to get into the site before all the appointments have been filled (usually by 8:30 a.m.). Most of us do not get in (there are over 250,000 people waiting), but the website announces the next date that appointments will be available. When the next date arrives, we do it all over again.
On one of these dates, I got in. The system was cumbersome. I selected an appointment by county and then filled in two pages of medical data. By the time I finished and clicked the “submit” button, the appointment had been booked by someone who was quicker or got access before I did, and I had to select another appointment date, re-enter the medical data and click “submit.” That appointment, too, was taken. Soon, all the appointments in my county had been filled, but I found an appointment 5 ½ hours away. I grabbed it.
One of the advantages of this system is that anyone with an Internet connection can wait in the queue. So elderly citizens who are not computer savvy can get their friends and relatives to book an appointment. I was able to make appointments for others who could not navigate the system.
Acme recently announced that they will be distributing vaccines and I suspect that they will use a similar system. So set your alarms and find someone with an Internet connection who is willing to help.
It is chaotic, but it is also fair. Getting into the system is like winning the lottery. No special privileges needed, just tenacity and good fortune.
According to the Biden administration, national pharmacies won’t be able to distribute vaccines before the end of February. I wish that they could get them sooner. In remote, underserved areas there need to be alternatives, but in most areas, allowing pharmacies to distribute the vaccines would benefit the economy, reduce cost, make it a fair system, and help overworked, dedicated local Health Departments.
Before expending the effort to educate those who don’t want the vaccine, I recommend that we start with the millions of people who do. Once they see the benefits and the minimal side effects, they will be less resistant. And if vaccinations are required to live in a post-COVID 19-world, people will comply.
The vaccine rollout has been badly mismanaged. Operation Warp Speed was only warped. But let’s not try to “boil the ocean”. Let’s help our Health Departments by taking advantage of one of America’s strengths, our businesses. In my limited experience, they are ready, willing, and able.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.