Well, friends and neighbors, how is the sign-up going for your COVID vaccination? The geezers among us, not mentioning any names here, are being identified as part of the problem, simply not computer literate enough to get themselves signed up. Oh yeah, say we geezers? Get a load of this.
It is important to preface this rant with a defense of those who may be named herein. COVID vaccination is a massive public health project involving many jurisdictions. The current administration is trying to build a delivery system many months late and more than a dollar short.
State and local governments, health care entities, pharmacies, football stadiums and shipping companies are all involved in launching one of the most ambitious vaccination projects ever attempted. The vaccine is fragile, and at this point every one of us must get not one but two shots, carefully spaced.
The vaccine is to be administered in phases, starting with health care workers, residents in long term care facilities, public safety personnel and others at high risk. Once those “front line” people are covered, the focus shifts to the elderly and others with complicating health factors. Of deaths from COVID, almost 2/3 of them occur in people over the age of 70. That’s why Maine is prioritizing people over 70 years old in “Phase 1b.”
How does it happen? Well, you register with a vaccine site, they get in touch when they have vaccine available and give you a date and time to come in. You show up and voila, you’re vaccinated. The very first step, registration, is where the trouble started. Yes, people without broadband or computers or computer skills were at a distinct disadvantage. Planners scrambled to create a phone option for registration. But the biggest problem is that a giant horde of us did what was asked of us. We went online to register.
We went online in such numbers that registration websites crashed. We were undeterred. We went back to the websites over and over, and they crashed. Over and over. We waded through the instructions, followed them carefully, got all of our personal data loaded and then — Rejected! Timed out! Crashed!
Please, oh please, begged those in charge of the undertaking, it will take time to get to everyone. We have your information. We will call you. Please don’t call us. It takes up time we need to get the system working more smoothly. But once you’ve registered, and you’re qualified by virtue of your age, and you haven’t heard “boo” in three weeks, and you start to hear about others who got the call and got vaccinated, you’re going to call.
At MDI Hospital, a very patient person explains that they are receiving 200 doses of vaccine a week and have 6,000 people registered. Do the math, and at that rate it means it will take 30 weeks to get to everyone.
You find out that several people in Hancock County have gotten vaccinated in Fairfield. Say what? Get out the map and oh, right, there’s Fairfield, in Somerset County, not too far from Norridgewock. At the top of a list of the 14 best things to do in Fairfield is Hillman’s Bakery. Second has got to be getting vaccinated. If that’s how we have to do it, we’ll go to Fairfield.
Then there is the Walmart experience. Walmart stores are ubiquitous; most of us live within driving range of a store. They have pharmacies and are accustomed to administering vaccines. They were willing to step up to help. You can get vaccinated at Walmart! So you hop on the computer and YES, it says, the Ellsworth Walmart will be administering vaccines. Great!
Go to the “Register Here” page. It asks you to put in a zip code or the town and state where you want to get vaccinated. So you put in zip code 04605. The site tells you there is no Walmart in that zip code. Umm — you’ve been there, right? Okay, never mind, you enter “Ellsworth Maine.” The response? “Error. Enter a town and state.”
Congressman Jared Golden sent out a detailed message about vaccinations. It had links to information about COVID, and one which offered “information about where to sign up and get vaccinated.” Click on the link and up comes: “Page Not Found.”
The 70-and-up Phase 1b vaccine candidates are hardy souls who tend to be good at following instructions. If they are asked to wait patiently, they will. After all, Phase 1b is not scheduled to be completed until April.
The players above are doing their best to get the U.S. population vaccinated as quickly as possible. Their tottering efforts may yet grow into a smoothly running vaccination program. Soon would be good. Until then, we wait.
Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.