SAN FRANCISCO Harry Toy has a health condition that made him eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine before others his age, but he couldn’t land an appointment no matter what he tried. Getting on his computer at 6 a.m. and checking California’s My Turn web page or the CVS.com site proved fruitless.
So Toy, 62, sought the help of his sister. Her husband, whose magic touch at the keyboard had led to her getting vaccinated, was able to find an appointment for Toy just as California was opening eligibility for all people 50 and older last week.
“It’s really difficult. It’s just knowing to stay on the site, and just keep checking,” Elizabeth Angeles said as she and the newly inoculated Toy walked out of a mass vaccination center in San Francisco on Thursday. “And you have to be fast, because sometimes you enter all your information, and by the time you think you’re done, the appointment is gone. My husband got mad at me because he said my email address was too long.”
Even those with fast fingers and short email addresses, figure to encounter abundant frustration securing vaccination appointments when the eligibility floodgates open for most Americans later this month.
President Joe Biden on Tuesday bumped up expectations by saying all adults will be eligible for a vaccine by April 19, after previously announcing 90% would qualify by that date and all by May 1.
“No more confusing rules, no more confusing restrictions,” Biden said. “Many states have already opened up to all of those, but beginning April 19th … every adult in this country is eligible to get to the line to get a COVID vaccination.”
Eligibility and availability are not the same, as Biden seemed to imply by emphasizing the words “get to the line.” With millions more people able to pursue those elusive shots, the picture of a free-for-all April 19 emerges, prompting one expert to compare the likely scenario to trying to score Elvis Presley tickets.
At the same time, the expert and others in the medical field say growing supply will meet demand in a few weeks, and it will just take some time and patience for all who want a vaccine dose to get it.
“Expanding to open eligibility will lead to that initial rush of eligible individuals who have been champing at the bit to get the vaccines, navigating the system, signing on the minute they’re eligible,” said Jason L. Schwartz, assistant professor of health policy at Yale University and a member of the Connecticut vaccine advisory committee.
“But the good thing is we’re now moving to such a significant vaccine-supply situation that, that period is going to be very short-lived. Very quickly, really in a matter of weeks after each state moves to open eligibility, we’re going to shift to a very different phase in the vaccine rollout where we will have plenty of doses available.”
Schwartz is among the public health specialists who consider Biden’s goal not only doable but “very attainable,” pointing out the remarkable progress his administration has made in getting vaccines out to the public.
Andy Slavitt, senior adviser of the White House COVID-19 response team, said Monday that the U.S. averaged 3.1 million administered doses a day last week for the first time and set a single-day record with 4.1 million Saturday. The White House said Tuesday that more than 28 million doses will be delivered this week.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 33% of Americans have received at least one vaccine shot and 19% are fully vaccinated.
Biden has pledged 200 million doses administered in his first 100 days in office – twice the number he initially promised – and enough availability for all who qualify (most children don’t) by the end of May as his administration strives to get the country closer to normalcy by the July Fourth holiday.
Dr. Robert Wachter, professor and chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California-San Francisco, gives the U.S. vaccination effort a B+ grade, up significantly from an F in the first five weeks under the Trump administration. He noted the percentage of distributed vaccines now finding their way into people’s arms has risen from about 30% – which he called “scandalous” – to right around 80%.
“For a big country, we’re a little bit behind England but ahead of everybody else,” Wachter said. “I think you have to look at how we’re doing and say, ‘That’s pretty good.’”
According to the Our World in Data website, the U.S. rate of 50 vaccine doses administered per 100 people trails only Britain’s 54.5 among large countries.
With the combined vaccine output from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson expected to increase to about 4 million doses a day, Wachter and other experts believe vaccine supply will outstrip demand in the U.S. by May, at which point the focus will shift to reaching those who are hesitant to get it.
But in comparing the expected mad dash for vaccine appointments April 19 to a past generation scrambling for tickets to an Elvis show, Wachter acknowledged there are still inefficiencies in the vaccination program. When April 19 arrives, he predicts some people will try to game the system and get doses earmarked for those in disadvantaged communities, and others will drive to far-flung locales in search of a shot.
Eric Mowat, who works in downtown San Francisco, said on the day California opened vaccines for residents 50 and older that it felt “miraculous” to get an appointment, considering he knows people who have made the 180-mile round trip to Modesto for their first shot. Weeks later, they would have to do it again.
Prashant Yadav, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development whose work focuses on improving health care supply chains, said the U.S. has largely overcome two of the biggest challenges it faced in implementing the COVID-19 vaccination program: having enough supply and vaccinators.