By Kevin Dwyer
Never has there been so much chatter, angst and hand-wringing in local circles and elsewhere, as there has been over the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines. For my wife Mary and I, it’s been a madcap scramble online, via Facebook, through friends and family or sheer luck to find a place to get stabbed with a needle.
According to most health experts, if you’re of a certain age—65 and older in Washington State—you’re deemed more susceptible to catching the coronavirus, and thus pushed to the front of the line to receive one of two (and soon to be three) vaccines.
That’s great news on the surface for seniors like us, but actually getting a sharp pointy thing thrust into your arm is a little like—excuse the pun—finding a needle in a haystack. It takes a bit of guile and a lot of persistence.
Let’s face it, the whole vaccine roll-out, both nationally and statewide, has been somewhat of a cluster-you-know-what, unorganized and inconsistent at best. Initially, there were plenty of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines available but apparently not enough personnel trained up to deliver them. Then as demand spiked with the lowering of eligible age groups, the supply-chain of vaccines couldn’t keep up. On top of that, it became increasingly confusing as to where one might go to actually get a shot.
If this is beginning to feel like a twisted version of a Mel Brooks comedy, it may very well be.
Look what happened in Seattle recently when a hospital freezer holding some 2,000 vials of Moderna broke down and authorities had to find creative ways to distribute the vaccine or let it go to waste. Thanks to texts and social media call-outs, people responded and many were seen getting shots on the sidewalks of Seattle in the middle of the night!
Then there were those sad reports of elderly people near tears, unable to cut through the bureaucracy to schedule an appointment. Or the small town somewhere in the Midwest, where there were 100 different vaccine phone numbers set up to receive calls. Huh? Talk about the Wild, Wild West!
As Mary and I discovered, there’s no logical roadmap to scheduling a vaccine appointment on Bainbridge Island or in Kitsap County. It’s more or less a stroke of good fortune. While we didn’t experience the extreme challenges others have had to hurdle, we did have to connect online or in person with CHI Franciscian in Silverdale, Virginia Mason, the Kitsap County Health District, Harborview Medical Center, Bainbridge Pharmacy and Bainbridge Prepares before we were able to get our first shots.
No doubt to some our efforts probably sound like an exhausting and frustrating exercise. And on many levels, it was. From the suggestion of a friend, who received his first shot a few weeks back, we scheduled appointments on the CHI Franciscian website. I never received a confirmation email, while Mary did.
Meantime, we both searched online and eventually submitted scheduling forms through Virginia Mason (me) and the University of Washington Medical Center (Harborview), she. Then another friend told us that Bainbridge Pharmacy, located at the Winslow Green, might have vaccines available. They didn’t.
Again, through the grapevine, we heard that Bainbridge Prepares had an online sign-up form that we went to and filled out. We also tried to sign up for shots through the Kitsap Health District, which announced it had 2,000-plus doses available on a first-come, first-serve basis. We, like many others, got knocked off their website at the get-go! Finally, our luck slowly began to change. I got a call back from CHI Franciscian saying I had, not one, but two appointments slated for mid and late February. Mary heard back from the UW that she was on board for her first shot. Then, an email landed in my inbox from Virginia Mason, allowing me to schedule another appointment.
If that wasn’t crazy enough, Bainbridge Prepares signed me up for a shot on Friday Jan. 29. So, in a week’s time, I ended up with four—count ’em—four first shot appointments! Wow!
Anyways, I stayed locally and had my first dose administered by Bainbridge Prepares volunteer, Dr. Ashby Wolfe, at the Bainbridge Island Senior Center. It was a smooth and easy experience: a little paperwork, followed by the shot, which felt like a little pinprick, and then a 15-minute rest period afterwards to see if you have any reaction.
I had the Moderna vaccine, which requires a second shot. Dr. Wolfe, who’s been on the island since 2018 and has a wonderful bedside manner, gave me a small piece of paper which serves as a Covid-19 vaccination record card. I’m not sure what the intent of the card is going forward, but it seems as though it would be good to have it, or something like it, on your person to prove you’ve had the vaccines.
Later, I scheduled my follow-up shot with Bainbridge Prepares and cancelled my other appointments. While my whirlwind adventure is over, many others—particularly super seniors—continue to struggle. My advice: stay vigilante, visit www.Bainbridgeprepares.org, search other medical facility websites, register yourself on the state’s www.Findmyphase site, and ask friends and family for help.
Until the Biden Administration and Washington State have a more comprehensive approach to vaccine manufacturing, distribution and implementation, it’s going to be a little bit more of the Wild, Wild West around here trying to schedule that first shot. Hang tight and be your own advocate(s)!
*Images by Kevin Dwyer, and used with permission by Dr. Wolfe.