Essay: Americans Need More Support for Online Vaccine Appointment Scheduling

Lisa Ferdinando | Wikimedia commonsArmy Spc. Angel Laureano holds a vial of the COVID-19 vaccine, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., Dec. 14, 2020. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

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This past year, people limited their time away from home, diligently wore masks wherever they went and drained the color from their hands with frequent hand sanitation. After a long and tumultuous year of precautions and regulations, COVID-19 vaccines are out and available. But in order to get the protection they’ve been waiting for, people must first navigate a dense network of vaccine providers, pharmacy and hospital web pages and portals.

America’s vaccine distribution process has been far from perfect, leaving many Americans frustrated and lost in the process of obtaining a vaccine.

“The phone lines were just jammed.” 

“A lot of it relies on iPhone apps, and my parents are on Android.” 

“A major problem for seniors.” 

These are just a few quotes cited by Today of the various frustrations Americans have shared about the vaccine distribution effort. Clearly, many are lost in the dense forest of sources to get an appointment and feel alone in their search for getting a vaccine. It’s a sentiment that’s widespread and must be addressed.

The harsh reality for many Americans across the country is the online vaccine scheduling system is unintentionally skewed to more tech-savvy and educated populations. This makes it harder for those who are older, less tech-savvy, of a lower socioeconomic status and other communities disproportionately affected by the virus to get vaccinations.

Vaccine appointments fill up so fast that many python programmers are setting up notification programs that allow them to book appointments for others in their community. People shouldn’t have to be going through so much trouble for a vaccine that they have been waiting for more than a year.

The result of the difficulty to get vaccine appointments? 

Not only would there be a greater delay in reaching the herd immunity goal that would protect the people in our communities, but there would also be a greater chance of new virus variants — less affected by current vaccines due to changes in the virus’s shape — to spread more widely.

With some places, such as universities, starting to require vaccines as well — marginalized communities could get an even later start as things return to pre-pandemic conditions.

What can be done to avoid these terrible ramifications? 

There needs to be more support from local government, more county vaccination and informative events targeted toward older, underserved and marginalized populations. Pharmacies and hospital systems should also provide tutorials for using online portals such as MyChart (an application hospitals use to help patients schedule appointments) and webpages to set vaccine appointments.

One amazing source of information with tips on how to stay on top of vaccine appointments is this Wall Street Journal article. More information like this needs to be implemented for the vaccine effort to make more efficient progress.

As we begin to find new, more aggressive variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, it’s of even greater importance the vaccines are administered to the greatest number of people. 

Unfortunately, there’s a high chance this virus will continue to persist for the coming years and an even higher chance there will be another widespread pandemic years into the future. Thus, we need to develop strategies better suited to vaccinate and protect all populations in our community.

Call support hotlines, register for notifications on vaccine availability and search a wide variety of clinics and pharmacies that are providing vaccinations. Most important of all, stay calm and have faith in the process. Eventually, you will get vaccinated. Until then, follow the same precautions you have been diligently following in the past, whether you have or haven’t received a vaccine.

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