Shot stories: Ohioans frustrated by rollout of COVID vaccine but grateful to get one
While some Ohioans wake up with a cup of coffee or a hot shower every morning, many are now getting up early to hop on their computers and phones to find a COVID-19 vaccine.
As the vaccines have rolled out across Ohio, readers told The Dispatch they have found the search and sign-up for a shot to be difficult, time-consuming and beyond frustrating.
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Often, central Ohioans said they spent hours on end, sometimes over several days or weeks, to schedule a vaccination. They visited multiple websites and called several pharmacies and hospitals before being able to nail down an appointment, sometimes by sheer luck or just happening to stumble upon one.
The sometimes dizzying sign-up processes, however, could get easier soon as the Ohio Department of Health prepares to roll out a centralized scheduling tool.
Until then, though, Ohioans are left to hunt for a vaccine themselves. Here are five of their stories:
A roundtrip flight
Bob Shapiro and his wife, Sheila, tried for weeks to find COVID-19 shots and had no success.
The couple lives on Columbus' East Side during warmer months and are "snowbirds" in Florida throughout the winter.
Bob said he and Sheila qualified for shots when the 75 and older age range opened the week of Jan. 25. Florida, like most states, prioritized health-care workers and the elderly for the first shots.
"We tried like the dickens to get our shots here," Bob said. "We put ourselves on every waitlist in almost every county in the state."
Then, an offer for a shot came from an unexpected and familiar yet far away place: their doctors at Ohio State University's Wexner Medial Center. Bob and Sheila were offered the opportunity to sign up for their shots through their My Chart patient portal.
Even though it was more than 1,000 miles away from their winter home near Tampa, Florida, they jumped at the chance and booked a flight back to Ohio.
Although Bob said they weren't thrilled to have to hop a flight back north to get their shots, they were grateful to have gotten them on Jan. 25. The Shapiros were impressed with Ohio State's setup at the Schottenstein Center, which he said was very organized.
As of this week, no vaccine provider they registered with in Florida had offered them an appointment yet, Bob said. They were scheduled to fly back to Ohio to get their second doses Friday.
"We want to do everything we can to prevent getting it and spreading it," Bob said of the coronavirus. "I never thought I'd even have to get a vaccine for a virus like this in my lifetime. Hopefully I never have to again."
'A lesson from Ticketmaster'
Joan Campbell, 68, of Reynoldsburg, said she would feel lucky if she was able to get a shot by March.
Campbell became eligible for the vaccine Feb. 8as part of the age 65 and older category of Phase 1B of Ohio's vaccination rollout. She and her husband, Ben Branch, tried all last week to sign up for a shot.
"It's an adventure. I'd hoped they'd have it a little better by now," she said. "If there's some place that offers a list, we're on it."
On Feb. 8, Campbell said she and her husband were registering for appointments on Kroger's website. By the time they finished the registration process a few minutes later, the appointment slots they had selected were already gone.
When they went back to restart, Campbell said there were no appointments left.
"Kroger needs to take a lesson from someone like Ticketmaster on how to temporarily reserve a slot," Campbell joked.
She described the whole sign-up process as a "hot mess" and though she admitted there might be no easy solution, she joked that it sometimes seems as if Ohio is "making it up as we go along."
Then on Thursday Campbell had a breakthrough. She got an appointment.
"This morning I had success, and through Kroger, no less," she said via email. "Next Tuesday morning I have an appointment not too awfully far from home, as does my husband. … Needless to say, I’m feeling much healthier already."
A three-hour wait in line
About three weeks ago, Paul Maddux, 80, of Madison County, got in his car and drove to the Molly Caren Agricultural Center in London to get vaccinated.
There, he found a wall of traffic with others seeking the shot. He had no appointment and had to show up and hope the county health department wouldn't run out of vaccine.
The vaccination clinic didn't open until noon, but he left home at 10 a.m. to get there with plenty of time to spare. It still turned into a three-hour wait in his car.
Maddux said he tried to maintain a good attitude about the situation, despite having to wait for as long as some might stand in line for a theme park ride. He joked that "you don't want to drink coffee before you go out there."
"I'm not trying to complain, I got my shot," he said. "But we had to wait quite a while. For someone 80 years old to sit in line for three hours with no bathrooms around – that's a long time."
Maddux, who previously workedas the utilities director for the city of London, said he understands that something as big as the COVID-19 vaccination campaign will naturally have some bugs to work out.
Although he's happy he got his shot, he's worried snow or other bad weather might delay his second dose. He's due for his second shot next week.
"We'll probably go out there early again," he said of himself and his wife. "Personally, I don't know anybody who got the vaccine yet, so I guess we're lucky."
A 'life-and-death lottery'
Eleanor Speelman considers it a race against the clock to get the vaccine. So she tried to get a head start.
Weeks before she became eligible, Eleanor, 67, of Hilliard, started to strategize how she might be able to sign up for a shot. It wasn't easy, given the always-changing timing of the rollout.
"I feel like I am in a life-and-death lottery where the rules and expectations keep changing," Speelman said before she began looking for appointments.
First, she figured she'd start by checking out her My Chart patient portals for OhioHealth and Ohio State.
To her surprise, she ended up being able to get an appointment at Ohio State fairly quickly, even though she was no longer a patient there. She joked that she printed out a confirmation form and kept looking at it thinking, "What's the catch here?"
Luckily, there was no catch. The only thing Speelman had to do was update her patient information at Ohio State, which she hadn't done since she gave birth to her son there in 1984.
That was no problem, though, and after her appointment was set up and ready to go, she felt a huge sense of relief.
"My problem is over and I cannot tell you what a relief it is to know that my life is freed up from this," she said. "I still feel really badly for the thousands and thousands of people who are still in this predicament though. ... It feels like you're racing the clock and not just because you're tired of being homebound."
'A disaster' with a happy ending
Joan Garner, 71, looked everywhere for a shot earlier this month, but couldn't find one.
She and her husband spent at least four hours on their computers and phones without being able to make an appointment. They checked for appointments south of Columbus in Gallia County, as well as in Circleville and West Virginia, she said.
"You have to go into each (website) separately, we had a horrible, horrible time with it," she said. "I don't know how people who aren't computer savvy can do it. I think it's a disaster."
The week of Feb. 1, when Garner became eligible, was also the week that 91,000 of Ohio’s more than 300,000 teachers also were allowed to start getting immunized. Joan said she was told by people she contacted at OhioHealth and Ohio State that the influx of teachers and people over the age of 70 meant there were fewer doses available that week.
Joan said it was the right move to have teachers vaccinated early so students can get back in school. But that didn't make the whole situation any less frustrating.
After a few days of trying, Garner was able to get an appointment through Franklin County Public Health at the board of elections. Though Garner was eager to get the vaccine, she has a shellfish allergy and was a little nervous after seeing reports of some people suffering from allergic reactions to the shot.
She took an EpiPen with her to her appointment and was happy when health department workers offered to vaccinate her near the physician on duty, just in case something went wrong. Luckily, nothing did, she said.
"I was very pleased with the vaccine procedure and the people there," she said. "I don't know if my second shot will be with them or not, but after that I hope it is."