Getting the COVID-19 vaccine requires some skill

The mild puncture isn't the biggest concern in the quest to get a COVID-19 vaccine. It takes some skill and determination to secure a shot. Bo Emerson
The mild puncture isn't the biggest concern in the quest to get a COVID-19 vaccine. It takes some skill and determination to secure a shot. Bo Emerson

Credit: Bo Emerson

Credit: Bo Emerson

Another apparent requirement: determination, a car and a computer.

Today, I feel a mix of exultation and irritation. I’m successfully inoculated against COVID-19, and these days, that is nothing short of a small miracle. I am immensely grateful to the scientists (and heroes, like Dolly Parton) who made receiving my first dose of the vaccine possible.

But the process was not well organized, hence my irritability. An initiative that means life or death for thousands of Americans seems to have been assembled in an offhand way.

I was eligible for the shot because I’m 65. But I received a shot because my wife is relentless at pursuing a goal.

Last week, when we found out that vaccines would be made available to people 65 and older, she began haunting the DeKalb Health Department website, and I began calling doctor’s offices to try to arrange an appointment.

The doctor’s offices said they had no vaccines. My wife kept refreshing her page, then made contact, only to fill out a form for a South DeKalb site that was listed but wasn’t actually offering vaccinations. She got back in line and tried again.

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Friends reported that they couldn’t get past busy signals, or when they did, the days that had been made available were already booked. One former co-worker drove 75 minutes to a rural county to successfully secure a vaccine.

A friend in North Georgia never got through to the regional health department there — which was responsible for six counties. Instead, she walked into her local public health headquarters and claimed to have an appointment.

They didn’t require proof. When she showed that she met residency and age requirements, they gave her a swab, a stick and sent her on her way. We’ve reported other problems.

On Thursday morning, I arrived at the BrandsMart shopping center in Doraville at 8:29 a.m. for a 9:11 a.m. appointment. Between 30 and 50 vehicles were already there in front of me.

For the first half-hour of our wait, the line moved up only a few dozen yards. No staff appeared to be on hand in the plastic drive-through shelters erected in the parking lot.

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In the meantime, our line of cars blocked parts of the shopping center, effectively sealing off access to at least a half-dozen Asian restaurants, a karaoke bar, a billiards hall and a leadership training center.

In any case, very few customers arrived to patronize any of the businesses on that side of the center. The vaccine, it seemed, was Doraville’s biggest business on Thursday. COVID-19 had given us an empty parking lot.

By 9:30 a.m. the line of vehicles had begun snaking through a serpentine queue. I showed the printed-out confirmation of my appointment and my driver’s license. At around 10 a.m. I filled out a form, and my forehead was scanned and my temperature was 96.9 (not unusual for me).

Then a 20-something staff member in a knit cap and an N95 mask came to my window and held up a wrinkled piece of paper printed with a QR code. I wasn’t sure what exactly I was supposed to do with that.

“Just hold up your phone,” she said. Once I scanned the code, my phone led me to a website where I registered for my follow-up booster in February. Then, I got my Moderna magic.

There are some people who would not have been familiar enough or comfortable navigating to a form on a phone.

Those folks should have been happy to know that instructions for registration for the booster shot for Tuesday’s customers were supposed to arrive by email, too. But friends who had shots earlier this week were still waiting for instructions on how to secure a second dose, which has to occur within a specific time span.

For one friend, I took the URL from the QR-enabled website, clipped off the 23-character code at the end (which, I was guessing, made it a destination unique to my case) and pasted it in a browser. It allowed the friend to register for a follow-up booster.

Here’s my point. There is some resistance to the injection among anti-vaxxers. But those who really want the vaccine (at least those in DeKalb County) still must have access to a computer and the know-how to use it. Plus, you need a car, since DeKalb vaccinations are generally drive-through.

Somebody who couldn’t spend an hour on the computer trying to find an available site (or didn’t have an intrepid spouse willing to do the same) would probably find themselves at the back of the line.

And that’s not a good thing.

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