Vaccine Quest: Sleepy-Eyed Seniors Finally Find Vaccine Appointments

The alarm clock shown 2 a.m. on Jan. 25, and it wasn’t the usual time that Southender Ed LeMay rises for the day, but with the hopes of getting a vaccine appointment, he thought the early bird might get the proverbial worm.

No, such luck though.

He didn’t think much of it, but what it turned into for himself and thousands of senior citizens over the age of 75 was a trying online quest to find anywhere – and really anywhere – that might have an open appointment for COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

While the strain on the system and the nerves has diminished somewhat with Fenway Park and the Reggie Lewis Center coming online, LeMay said there were a series of about four days last week when sleepy-eyed seniors burned the candle at both ends – working all the networks they had – to find a place where they could get vaccinated.

“I woke up at 2 a.m. on Jan. 25 and went to my computer and fired it up,” said LeMay. “I soon found that all the places in the area had ‘none available.’ I turned off my computer and went back to sleep. About 7 a.m., I got back on and checked about every half-hour and then started communicating with other seniors I know.”

As part of the South End Seniors group, and also his book club, LeMay turned to those networks to get help when he found that making an appointment wasn’t going to be as simple as pointing and clicking. The next few days were like a speakeasy situation, where everyone was scrambling to find hidden information – and links that might somehow propel one into an appointment.

LeMay said one of his friends in South Boston ended up finding two appointments in Pittsfield, which is in western Massachusetts, and they decided to make a vacation out of it.

“They found an appointment for two in Pittsfield decided to go,” he said. “They’re driving out there and back, getting a hotel and getting vaccinated. People have gone to great lengths to do this. That’s the most drastic thing I saw happen.”

LeMay and several of the South End Seniors seemed to hit a break when members Bizzy McCabe and Paul Wright stumbled upon a link that suddenly seemed to have local appointments available.

“Early on I got that link and kept using that link all the time,” said LeMay. “On the next day – the 28th – I was able to get an appointment. There were 85 appointments and I helped some friends of mine in my book club and other friends in the South End.”

Never before had a link become so important to so many.

State Sen. Will Brownsberger, who held a Zoom call with seniors in his district late last week, said the state was responsible for the rollout and he felt it was done very poorly.

“Clearly it did not go well,” he said. “The information available to people needing vaccination is poor. It’s very poor in a couple of major ways…What I heard from people is a lot of people wanted to get vaccinated and couldn’t, number one. And a lot of people were angry that the website wasted so much of their time.”

He said he is advocating for the state to bring in outside resources to design a site that works and isn’t as confusing as the one rolled out over the last few days. He said that will be critical as the state begins to offer vaccinations to more and more sectors of the public.

LeMay said he agrees the state could do better.

He said he likes Gov. Charlie Baker a lot, and knows him personally, but is disappointed in this effort to get seniors vaccinated.

“I just think they probably should not have set a date until they were really ready to roll this out,” he said.

Brownsberger is worried also about the expectations set out by the state, simply saying to make an appointment and get the shot. Meanwhile, he said, if one looks closely there are 1.2 million seniors to be vaccinated and only about 100,000 doses now.

“One million will need to get vaccinated in the next few months and there’s only doses for about 80,000 per week,” he said. “Do the math and that’s three months or maybe more when the federal government and manufacturers are able to make more available. Most seniors are not going to get vaccinated for a while and they will have to be patient.”

Patience, however, is very hard to come by when one has been waiting for months inside to potentially regain some freedom of movement.

LeMay said it was very, very important to him to get vaccinated. He has been self-quarantining since March 28, and he does go out for walks, but is very selective as to what he does. He is 78 and very worried about catching COVID. The light at the end of the tunnel seemed to be the vaccine, so when it was available, he was ready.

“It’s a feeling of being more secure,” he said. “I’m a little bit on my own and I don’t want to end up in a hospital or being a burden on someone.”

He relayed a story about when his brother passed away during the pandemic. He had to travel on a plane to get to see him, be by his bedside for his last days, and then attend the funeral. On the way back, he said, it was very stressful because there were so many people crammed together and it didn’t feel like a safe situation.

“I really was in fear all the way back,” he said. “I want to be able to take a flight in those times of family emergencies and I don’t need to travel for enjoyment or vacations.”

LeMay was able to get an appointment this week to get vaccinated in Boston this week, though he said he will still be careful, wear a mask and socially-distance even after the vaccination kicks in.

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