We got a little criticism here recently for an editorial cartoon we published that compared trying to get signed up for the COVID-19 vaccine to trying to get through an indecipherable maze.
I get it. Some people who got busy making appointments immediately after they became eligible got scheduled fairly easily.
For many others, though, the maze metaphor, unfortunately, fits — more now than it did when we ran that cartoon almost two weeks ago.
Full transparency Part 1: My wife and I had no trouble getting our first doses scheduled. We received our initial shots the first weekend that people 65 and over became eligible, thanks to our primary care physician hooking us up.
Full transparency Part 2: We will believe we are actually getting our second scheduled dose of the Moderna vaccine when the needles are in our arms.
The Daily Item publishes vaccine updates daily. We had a story this week that summed up succinctly where vaccine distribution stands around here.
“The Pennsylvania Department of Health’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution map shows 23 locations where vaccines are supposed to be available across the Valley,” the story began. “As of Tuesday afternoon. Valley residents who are eligible in the Phase 1A rollout can get on a waiting list, but no facilities are currently scheduling specific appointment times.”
The italics on the words “no facilities” are mine, added for emphasis. If you’ve been trying to schedule a vaccine lately, that probably wasn’t necessary. You already know.
As I finished up writing this column on Friday, nothing much had changed.
Obviously, we’re in completely uncharted waters with all of this. Like anything else totally new, it’s understandable that things aren’t going smoothly. Have you ever read how many times the Wright brothers failed to get their flying machines off the ground before they succeeded?
Lack of supply has been a major issue and will likely continue to be for a while. There’s not a ton state officials can do about that.
But distribution has been a big problem, too. Pennsylvania had administered just 1,594,474 of the 2,540,475 doses of COVID vaccine that it did have as of Friday. That’s just 62.7 percent of the available supply, which ranked the commonwealth 41st of 50 states.
A big part of doing better will require making getting an appointment easier.
This week, the Department of Health took a baby step in that direction, establishing a phone number to call — 1-877-PA-HEALTH (1-877-724-3258) — where you are supposed to be able to speak with a representative to determine your eligibility and get contact information for vaccine providers near you.
Problem is, that phone number became quickly overwhelmed. I called in multiple times and got a recording informing me they were experiencing “very high call volumes,” and encouraging a visit to their website — email@example.com.
On Thursday, the state announced that the PACE program, which is the Lottery-funded prescription drug program for low-income seniors, has set up a designated team of operators to help seniors find vaccine appointments and arrange transportation if needed. Those operators can be reached by calling 1-800-225-7223.
I tried that on Friday morning and got through in seven minutes.
Also on Friday, the state gave individual vaccine providers until Feb. 19 to set up vaccine appointment phone services.
Sounds like progress. Let’s hope it is.
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