Six weeks ago, Diana Rastegayeva began emailing friends and family with tips on how to navigate the patchwork of national, local, and private providers offering deals on coronavirus vaccines.
Rastegayeva, who works for a pharmaceutical company, has now turned her mailing into a website and has become one of a growing number of experts helping eligible Americans navigate the labyrinthine and highly localized vaccine distribution process. Her tips are as simple as knowing when pharmacies post new appointments to make sure someone has autofill set up to make online registration forms easier to fill out.
But while Rastegayeva has managed to secure 1,250 appointments for people in her home state of Massachusetts, she shares many experts’ concerns that doses are not going to those who need it the most, but rather to those who know how to work with the system .
“This system isn’t really good for anyone – the government should do this,” she told the The Washington City Times. “This is the epitome of American individualism.”
The US has now delivered the first doses of a coronavirus vaccine to 21 percent of the adult population, making it the sixth fastest Covid-19 vaccine program in the world. On Saturday, the country took a record 2.9 million shots, the White House announced Monday.
But the rollout was patchy, with states, local health departments, individual clinics, and private pharmacy chains all running their own systems. Additionally, many states now allow anyone with an underlying condition to claim a vaccine – a group that makes up as much as 60 percent of the population.
So many people are now eligible for so few doses that people are doing everything they can to get highly sought after appointments. Some queue outside grocery stores for 12 hours to get unclaimed vaccines; others use networks of befriended pharmacists and nurses to find out when appointments become available; some monitor registration websites day and night.
As a result, those who can best navigate the different registration systems seem to be better vaccinated.
A recent The Washington City Times analysis of five major metropolitan areas found that wealthier and whiter neighborhoods had much higher vaccination rates than poorer, minority areas.
Meanwhile, older Americans have received a much smaller proportion of vaccines than is the case in the UK, for example. While more than 90 percent of people 75 and older in Britain have received a vaccine, that figure is closer to 70 percent in the US.
“When you’re running this fragmented, Ticketmaster-esque rush, how is a 92-year-old who doesn’t know how to use the Internet to navigate it?” said Kris Slevens, an IT engineer in New Jersey who helps older people sign up for appointments.
The differences are worrying many experts who have called on the US to do more to ensure that those hardest hit by Covid-19 get the first vaccines.
Helene Gayle, who chaired a government-mandated committee to recommend vaccine prioritization guidelines, said: “It will be important that public health systems continue or accelerate the focus on fairness. Without that risk, we will not only run into further problems of unequal access, but we will also increase mistrust of a system that once again pays no benefit to those most at risk. “
In their hunt for a vaccine, many people rely on contacts to secure a dose.
Scott Michelson, who works in healthcare in Washington DC but does not treat patients, was not eligible for a vaccine during the initial phase of the city’s rollout. However, he was able to get hold of a dose after a friend who worked in residential care told him they were about to throw away doses that were near their expiration date.
“She messaged me that day and I had to be there in a few hours,” he said. “But if I hadn’t claimed it, it would have been thrown away, which would have been horrible.”
Some private companies also help their customers vaccinate. Abe Malkin, medical director at the elite medical practice Concierge MD, said he was inundated with requests from customers to help them register for a vaccination appointment.
“We don’t book the appointments ourselves, but we can help people with the registration process,” he said.
Concierge MD doesn’t charge people for helping them get vaccinated, but others do. Slevens has banned dozens of people from his Facebook group for trying to charge fees of up to $ 250 to help people get hookups.
Slevens is one of the few people across the country who are now volunteering to ensure that more people have access to technical expertise.
One of the best ways to get an appointment, he says, is to pre-populate your details on a pharmacy registration website and return to it early in the morning, ready to hit ‘confirm’ once there are are new agreements. made available.
Rastegayeva said her top tip was simply to open as many browser windows on as many devices as possible. “Each one is another lot,” she said. The demand for her services is so high that she has recruited 300 volunteers and now has her own eligibility criteria, prioritizing the over 75s, non-English speakers and ethnic minorities.
Others have been similarly inundated after sharing their tips.
Nick Muerdter, a software engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, says he now spends most of his time on his website, which shows people where there are pharmacy vaccinations across the country. His bosses even allowed him to develop it on the job after realizing he could help free up coworkers, many of whom spent a lot of time looking for hookups for themselves or loved ones.
“I try to make updates as soon as possible,” he said. “I am just desperate that we get doses fast enough so that my website is no longer in demand.”