As of Thursday, every Californian age 16 and older is officially eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
That doesn’t mean it will be easy for everyone get a shot right away.
The vaccine rollout has been chaotic, according to various news reports and hundreds of emails sent to us by California Today readers.
Government sites like My Turn as well as the sites of pharmacy chains and hospital networks have been unreliable when it comes to booking appointments, sometimes offering many slots and sometimes making empty promises of callbacks or emails when new slots become available.
Phone calls, even after long waits on hold, have often yielded better results, readers told us. But the best sources of information on how to get scarce vaccines seem to have been informal networks — friends, family, co-workers and social media services like Facebook, Twitter and Nextdoor.
“I signed up for everything I could,” Hsu-Lien K. Rivera of San Mateo wrote to us in an email.
Ultimately, she managed to score an appointment at a CVS more than 40 miles away by logging onto the pharmacy chain’s website at 4:30 a.m.
Despite all the challenges — including the government’s decision this week to pause shots of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine — 40% of Californians 18 and older have received at least one shot. And 22% are fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times vaccine tracker.
Tara Ayres, who has multiple sclerosis and diabetes, qualified for the vaccine March 15. Ayres, who lives in Richmond, said she signed up for alerts on My Turn and the Contra Costa County vaccine site and visited pharmacy pages. My Turn referred her only to Safeway pharmacies with no appointments. The county never sent her anything. The University of California, San Francisco, where she regularly sees doctors, was also not helpful.
“It was hours every day of calling and doing online searches,” she said in an interview.
While browsing her medical charts, she found a link to Sutter Health and finally landed an appointment in Fairfax, one county over.
Ayres gets her second Moderna shot Tuesday and has circled May 4 — when she will be considered fully vaccinated — on the calendar.
“Really what I am looking forward to is doing my own grocery shopping,” she said. “I’m going to Berkeley Bowl.”
While some people reported smooth and easy vaccinations to us, it’s clear that the lack of a functioning central system made the process harder for some people.
State officials acknowledged Wednesday that there had been problems with My Turn but said that the site had been improving since January. They pledged that it would be able to handle the expected influx of new vaccination inquiries, with 1,500 clinics listed and forms in more than 200 languages.
But as Mark Mandel of San Diego found out, even the best sites have difficulty with special situations. Mandel, a sales consultant for food brands and a health services volunteer, said he got his first shot in February at the county fairgrounds. When it was time for his second appointment, the fairgrounds site had shut down and he canceled it. Then he had trouble rescheduling a second shot since most websites take only first appointments. Nearly six weeks after his first shot, Scripps told him to just show up for the second.
Some Californians made long journeys in their quest for vaccines. A couple of weeks ago, Bakersfield, Tulare and other cities in the Central Valley found they had more shots available than people who wanted them — perhaps in part because of extra allocations under the state’s vaccine equity program.
Some of those places opened up vaccinations to all adult Californians, prompting vaccine hunters from the Bay Area and Southern California to jump in their cars. My family spent Easter Sunday making a 450-mile round trip between Oakland and Tulare to get a first shot for my wife, who had not qualified under Alameda County rules but was welcomed at the World Ag Expo vaccination site. (I got my first shot close to home April 2 after the state opened up vaccinations to 50-plus Californians like me.)
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