When I became eligible for the COVID vaccine in New York City, I struggled to book an appointment.
I had to scour government websites, call a hotline several times, and turn to third-party sites.
There was a long line at the vaccination site, but the site workers made it run smoothly.
When I became eligible for a coronavirus vaccine in New York City, I knew it would be difficult to get an appointment after watching the slow and bumpy rollout of the vaccines over the past few months.
I've heard from older family members who live in New York and Florida that they struggled to find a vaccination appointment in their areas. In some cases, it took them days and sometimes weeks to finally get the shot. I knew it would be difficult for me too, but, eventually, I learned to work the system and got my first dose of the Moderna vaccine.
From booking an appointment to waiting in line for hours, here's what it was like getting vaccinated in New York City.
On February 14, New York opened eligibility for people with underlying health conditions to get the COVID vaccine.
People with cancer, chronic kidney disease, pulmonary disease, intellectual and developmental disabilities, heart conditions, weakened immune systems, severe obesity, sickle cell disease, diabetes, cerebrovascular disease, neurologic conditions, or liver disease were allowed to make an appointment for a vaccine.
About a week after the announcement, I realized I had one of the underlying conditions listed by New York state. The city's website said I did "not need documentation from your personal health care provider or any other proof of your condition to get a vaccine in NYC."
Despite that, I still called my doctor and asked for a letter certifying my eligibility. They mailed me a letter, which arrived a few days later.
Once I got the letter from my doctor, I began the arduous process of finding an appointment in the city.
I immediately realized I had no idea how to schedule a vaccination appointment.
Eventually, I found the New York City Health and Hospital COVID-19 Vaccination Scheduler and checked for openings on the weekend. It showed a list of vaccination sites around the city with the words "No Available Appointments." I checked the site a few days later and there were still no appointments.
A couple of days after that, I received a call from my assemblywoman, Latrice Walker, saying there were appointments available at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. When I went back to the website, there were still no available appointments — even at the college.
Assemblywoman Walker also gave me a phone number to the New York City vaccine reservation call center, so I tried that next.
Contacting the call center was a long, ultimately fruitless activity.
When I called, I had to listen to an automated message list all of the eligible distinctions for getting a coronavirus vaccine. Although it's a relatively short list, it felt like forever when it was read aloud.
After being placed on hold for 5 to 10 minutes, I was connected to the operator who read the list to me again, finally asking which distinction I fell under. She then asked me a series of questions, including when I'd had my last vaccine and if I'd ever had an allergic reaction to a vaccine.
Once she collected my information, she began the process of checking for available appointments. I sat in silence for five minutes as she checked the sites in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Eventually, she said there were no available appointments. She told me to call back periodically throughout the day.
Although she was being helpful and kind, I felt frustrated. It was a lengthy process just to hear there were no appointments — I couldn't do that several times a day, especially because I work full-time, so I asked when is the best time to call. She told me to call between 3:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. because that's when they get new appointments.
When I called back at that time, I went through the process again and there were still no appointments. This time, the operator told me the best time to call is at 8 a.m. because that's when appointments become available. The conflicting information was frustrating.
The operator told me to check local pharmacies and stores that have the vaccine to see if they had any available appointments.
The website and phone number I originally used only looked for appointments at public schools and at hospitals. There is a separate website that I hadn't known about that lists appointments at local pharmacies and drug stores.
To find them, I went to the site, Vaccine Finder, which shows a large map of the city and the available testing sites.
There were no available appointments here either.
While doing some research, I read about a New Yorker who had designed a website that collates all available appointments in the city.
A New York Times article highlighted a site called TurboVax. Huge Ma struggled to get an appointment for his mother in New York City because there were so many websites to check. He decided to develop his own website that would compile all of the available appointments in the city into one site, now known as TurboVax.
The information is also sent to TurboVax's Twitter account, which tweets out each appointment as it becomes available. I followed the TurboVax Twitter account and turned on push notifications for that specific account so I would get a notification on my phone the moment an appointment opened up.
Finally, I felt like I was in control of this chaotic process. But at that moment, I also realized I had an unfair advantage. There are older people who are also hoping for a COVID vaccine but might not be so comfortable with technology — they do not know how to follow a Twitter account or turn on their notifications.
TurboVax is a great option, but it definitely benefits the tech-savvy. Plus, it's a site designed for the New York City area and not the rest of the country.
Later that evening, I was cooking dinner when I got a notification that an appointment was available.
At 7 p.m., I was in the middle of frying chicken for dinner, but I jumped at my phone as soon as it chimed. I clicked on the notification, and it took me to the vaccination scheduler website. As soon as I clicked to book the appointment, I was notified that the appointment was already taken. Seconds later, I got another notification saying a new appointment opened up, and when I clicked that, it was gone too. I got a third notification, and my heart raced. When I clicked on that one, the appointment was still available.
As a pot of rice began to boil and the pan of oil began to burn, I filled out a short questionnaire as quickly as I could, determined to not lose the appointment.
Although dinner was practically ruined, I finally booked my vaccine appointment at Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn. It was for just two days later, much quicker than the weeks some people have to wait after booking their appointment. The school was located about an hour's train ride from my apartment, which wasn't ideal — and again, a journey that's not an option for everyone — but I was just happy that I was able to get an appointment somewhere.
Once I finally cooled down from the adrenaline rush, I realized how difficult it was to book the appointment even though only a small pool of the population is eligible right now. I can't imagine what it will be like when everyone in the city is eligible and competing for appointments at the same time.
Before my appointment, I had to get some paperwork together.
In my appointment confirmation email, I was told I had to bring my proof of eligibility — in direct contrast to what the city's website reads. I was thankful I had requested a letter from my doctor earlier in the week.
I also needed to show proof that I was a resident of New York City by bringing a valid lease or a valid ID with my New York City address on it. Since I had neither, I gathered as much mail as I could with my name and address and hoped that would suffice.
I was also told to bring my insurance card even though the vaccine is free for everyone.
When I arrived at Abraham Lincoln High School, I was shocked at how far the line stretched.
My appointment was scheduled for 11:40 a.m., so I arrived 10 minutes before the appointment — the confirmation email said I was not allowed to arrive more than 5 minutes before. Turns out, it didn't matter what time I arrived because the line was so long.
I knew it would be a long line, but I didn't expect it to be two blocks long with no end in sight. As I walked farther down the line, I still couldn't see the end. It kept stretching past the school building, past the track and field, and past the school's property. I had a sinking feeling that this wouldn't be a simple and quick process either.
When I finally reached the end of the line, the woman in front of me said her job only gave her two hours to get the vaccine, so she hoped the line would go fast. The man in front of her said he worked for the MTA and that he was only paid for 2 hours to get the vaccine.
Luckily, I had the day off work, but not everyone will be able to take time off. I also couldn't imagine how much longer the line could get once more people become eligible. By then, two hours won't be enough — it'll be an all-day event.
While waiting in line, vaccination site workers approached us one by one with iPads to check us in. They asked me for my appointment confirmation number and then asked me the same series of questions I've been answering throughout the process.
Once I was checked in, I asked how long the wait would be. They told me about an hour.
Once the hour mark passed, I knew the estimate was very wrong.
Although it was one of the warmer days of winter, my hands started to get too cold from holding the book I was reading. I had to bury them in my coat to get warm several times.
Every now and then, an older person would be pulled from the line because they couldn't stand outside in the cold anymore. They were escorted to the front of the line or to a waiting room in the school.
The site workers also checked to see if we needed water or if we needed to use the bathroom periodically. Unlike the appointment-making process, the crowd control at the site was organized thanks to the well-trained and patient workers.
However, while waiting, I became anxious that they weren't going to accept my proof of residence forms once inside. I also had an irrational fear that they weren't going to accept my proof of eligibility letter either. My biggest worry was that I was going to wait in this line and then end up not getting the vaccine.
At the two-hour mark, I finally made it inside the much warmer building.
Unfortunately, the line continued inside too.
I waited for another 20 to 30 minutes inside, but now, I was able to see the inner workings of a New York City vaccine site. We were clearly in the cafeteria of this school. On the right side, there was a large waiting area for the older people who couldn't stand in the line. To the left, there was the vaccination area. It was just an open space with no privacy, which surprised me.
Earlier on the line, a worker told another person that this was a smaller vaccination site with only a few vaccinators. Once inside, I saw there were about 10 to 15 vaccinators dressed in masks, shields, and gowns to protect themselves.
After over two hours of waiting, I finally received my vaccination.
My vaccinator cleaned the chair with a sanitizing wipe before I sat down. She asked me for my appointment confirmation number and then asked me the same series of questions yet again. I was prepared to show her all my forms of proof of eligibility, but she never asked for them.
Up until this point, I was not aware which vaccine I was getting – either Moderna or Pfizer. The vaccinator showed me my vaccination card and said I was going to be getting the Moderna shot, which was found to be 94.1% effective at preventing COVID-19 after two doses.
The worker asked me which arm I wanted the shot in — I chose my less dominant arm, the left — and she gave me the vaccine, which didn't hurt at all.
After the shot, she told me to have a seat in the waiting area behind me for 15 minutes.
The waiting area was filled with people who had just been vaccinated.
I had to wait at least 15 minutes after my vaccination to make sure I didn't have an adverse reaction. There was a big sign on the wall that read, "If feeling unwell, raise hand." I spotted two paramedics in the corner and a stretcher beside them, waiting in case of an emergency.
As I waited, another worker came up to me with an iPad and asked if I would like to schedule my appointment for the second dose. I immediately breathed a sigh of relief because I feared having to go through the chaotic booking process a second time. Within a few moments, she easily booked me a second appointment for a month later.
After 15 minutes, I felt absolutely fine, so I left the building and headed home.
Later that night, my arm was extremely sore.
As the night went on, my arm became increasingly sore. I couldn't even lift it to put a shirt on, and I could not put any pressure on it. I also had some chills and body aches in the middle of the night. All of this is normal when getting the Moderna vaccine, according to the CDC.
When I woke up the next morning, all the symptoms were gone and my arm was barely sore anymore.
It's important to note that my experience is unique to New York City, and everyone's experience will differ based on their town's or state's processes.
It does seem, however, that people in other states are experiencing similar issues with booking. According to the AP, one woman in Athens, Georgia, spent the majority of her day periodically calling the state's health department so that her mother could get the vaccine. At one point, she was put on hold for 65 minutes.
In Connecticut, elderly people who are eligible for the vaccine have complained that they can't reach anyone on the hotline that the government provided to book an appointment, the CT Mirror reported. When they leave a call-back number, they don't receive calls for days.
If my experience is any indication of the larger vaccination system, there needs to be some major improvements before the rest of the general public becomes eligible.
Although the line at the vaccination site was long, it was a highly organized and smooth process thanks to the workers who were running it.
However, there need to be major improvements in the booking system. There are too many sites to book an appointment in New York City, so it's difficult to see everything at once. Likewise, contacting the call center was a difficult and lengthy process.
Additionally, people need to know where they can book an appointment, when is the best time to check availability, and what forms they will need. During my process, all of this was unclear to me and I received conflicting information several times.
The booking process also needs to be more inclusive of people who can't access the internet, and it needs to help those who need further assistance.
I'm lucky that I got my vaccine early and can finally start looking toward a future where there is herd immunity, but all of these issues need to be fixed quickly because they will only become exacerbated as more people become eligible.
Read the original article on Insider