Hattie Gelhausen, of Atlanta, says that finding a vaccine appointment for her two young kids has been both tricky and time consuming. She’s spent close to ten hours trying to get appointments for her children, ages 3 and 5: visiting Vaccines.gov several times, calling around to stores like Walgreens, and reaching out to a Facebook group dedicated to Georgians looking for COVID-19 vaccine doses.
More than one appointment has fallen through, she says, after stores informed her that the vaccine actually wasn’t available.
Saturday, she has appointments for her kids at Walmart, and is hopeful that it will work out.
“I wish that there was a clearer way to know how to get [the vaccine] and where to get it. It certainly has been frustrating.”
Previously, the federal government bought vaccines in bulk, and provided them at no cost to Americans. Beginning with this vaccine, the commercial market has taken over the work of buying and distributing shots. Unlike the annual flu vaccine, the manufacturers and processes are new and for now, problematic.
The problems with the vaccine rollout are being reported across the country.
Vaccines.gov, the main resource provided to direct people to a nearby vaccine, is missing pediatricians and other locations where the vaccine is available and sometimes indicates a vaccine is available at a site when it is not.
Many have pointed to problems with getting the Moderna vaccine from its distributor McKesson Corp., based in Irving, Texas. McKesson did not answer questions about the distribution Friday.
Georgia DPH is planning to offer shots to both adults and children at health departments throughout the state, but it’s facing delays also. As of Friday afternoon, vaccines were starting to arrive at several health departments including Fulton, Gwinnett, Clayton and Athens-Clarke counties, but they are in limited supply. For now, DPH recommends people call their local health department to make an appointment and to make sure shots are available.
“DPH did pre-order vaccine, but our health departments are experiencing the same issues with vaccine orders as what we’ve heard from private providers: Shipping delays from the manufacturers, partial shipments, vaccines for some ages but not others, and some (health departments) have received their Moderna orders but not their Pfizer orders,” DPH spokeswoman Nancy Nydam said in an email to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Dr. Ashish Jha, White House COVID-19 response coordinator from March 2022 until June of this year, said the rollout of vaccine doses is getting caught up in the complexities of the U.S. health care system.
“When you’re forced to switch from the government as a single purchaser, buying all of these things (COVID vaccines), to a commercial system where you literally have hundreds of purchasers — middlemen, pharmacy benefits management companies, etcetera — it’s going to be a little bit bumpy,” said Jha, who spoke during a webinar on COVID held Thursday by USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism.
Noting that the U.S. has “an incredibly complicated health care system,” Jha said one major source of delay has been insurance companies creating new billing codes for pharmacies and doctors to ensure the vaccines are covered. He said it was a “major stumbling block” for the past few weeks that’s “been largely fixed.” Jha also reported that neither Pfizer or Moderna are experiencing any shortages of the vaccines.
He added, “I do think we’re going to see increasing supply and availability in the weeks — not months, but weeks — ahead. But it’s going to be uneven for a little bit.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed off on the updated vaccine in mid-September for ages 6 months and up. Public health experts hope the shots will provide protection for the next expected rise in COVID cases during the fall and winter months.
Only about one in four American adults say they “definitely” plan to get the new updated COVID shot, according to a KFF survey released Wednesday.
In Georgia, both adult and pediatric COVID vaccines are available in limited supply at the health district covered by the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale County Health Departments. Dr. Audrey Arona, the district medical director, said that the rollout of the vaccine has hit some logistical challenges but she expects them to be worked out soon.
“It can be frustrating to wait for a vaccine when you want to get it as soon as possible, but I think it’s going to resolve itself within a matter of days,” Arona said.
She noted COVID vaccines for adults and children administered at local health departments are available to all Georgians including those who are insured and uninsured as well as those who are undocumented.
Many Georgia pediatric offices are holding off on ordering vaccines for children, citing too many questions on how much they will be reimbursed from insurance companies, and delays for some insurance companies to update their codes to cover the vaccine, according to the Georgia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
DeKalb Pediatric Center, a large practice that has been a leader in the state in administering COVID vaccines from the very beginning, is one spot where parents can find the vaccine for their kids, but they too have logistical challenges.
In an e-mail, Dr. Jane Wilkov, founder of DeKalb Pediatric Center, said most pediatricians pre-ordered the Moderna vaccine for young children because they come in single-dose vials and have a longer shelf life than the Pfizer shots. But the Moderna vaccine never arrived. Concerned it may be weeks before the Moderna shots are delivered, Wilkov ordered Pfizer vaccine, which has arrived.
Meanwhile, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is still waiting on its first shipments of the new updated COVID vaccine for children.
Pharmacies that provide the vaccine, including CVS, say their websites are the best source for vaccine availability. Many pharmacies only vaccinate children who are at least 3 years old. CVS MinuteClinic locations will begin offering the vaccine for children who are at least 18 months old in the coming days according to a spokesperson.