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Idaho Seniors Frustrated As COVID-19 Vaccine Demand Outpaces Supply

Photo by Steven Cornfield on Unsplash

As Idaho vaccine providers opened up appointments to residents 65 years of age and older, seniors across the state frantically called hotlines and refreshed web pages in hopes of getting one of the prized slots for the limited doses. 

Starting on Monday, Idahoans 65 and older were eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. Many providers started making appointments on Monday, but some began signing people up earlier. 

Signs of the frenzy began this past weekend, when the Saint Alphonsus Health System cancelled its first dose appointments in Nampa and at various clinics due to limited supply.


Karen Campbell from Meridian had one of those cancelled appointments, which she’d scheduled last Thursday. She’s 75 years old and has rheumatoid arthritis. Her doctor told her she should get the vaccine as early as possible because of her age and compromised immune system. 


“But they weren’t able to give me any direction on who I would go to or how I would get in an earlier rotation,” Campbell said. “So, I waited.”


She signed up for a spot at Saint Alphonsus for next weekend, but found out it was cancelled. So she tried with St. Luke’s Monday morning. She started looking at myChart early — at 6:30 a.m. — even though the portal was set to go live at 8. She didn’t see any openings from then through later that morning, when a post from the health system came across her Facebook feed that told her they were out of appointments


“So now I’m just stuck waiting for somebody else to get a supply, apparently,” Campbell said. 


In a call with reporters on Monday, St. Luke’s said about 100,000 people tried making a vaccine appointment that morning. They said myChart began permitting patients to schedule appointments slightly before 8 a.m., so for users logging on then, it might’ve seemed like they were gone almost immediately. Mid-day, St. Luke’s learned it had more doses and opened up 1,500 more spots. They were gone in under 10 minutes. 


On the call, St. Luke’s officials suggested patients check myChart a couple of times a day to see if appointments have opened up due to increases in supply.


“I've been pretty up through this whole situation,” said 66-year-old Kristina Benson from Boise, “but today I just sat in my room and cried for a while.”


Benson had breast cancer last year and went through radiation treatment. She also has other health complications that make her at risk of getting very sick from COVID-19. Benson tried to get an appointment with St. Luke’s on Monday morning. When the system told her there were no appointments, it said to call her clinic. After hours on hold, a scheduling specialist said all appointments would be made online through myChart. 


“I just I felt like it was insult added to injury today, to go through the hassle of being sent around and around and around in circles,” Benson said. 


Health care providers, health districts, even Gov. Brad Little urged Idahoans trying to sign up for scarce vaccine appointments on Monday to be patient. There are more than 260,000 65-and-older residents, but the state currently only receives about 25,000 first doses a week. 


Still, throughout the day, Idaho’s seniors called hospitals, clinics and pharmacies searching, if not for a firm appointment, for more information. 


Kathy Peter, age 70, from Boise, said people in her network were making calls and reporting back what they found. 


“There's a lot of networking in my generation,” she said “and people are sending notes to each other and getting on Nextdoor and saying, ‘Check this out, check that out.’”


Peter’s husband’s appointment was cancelled at Saint Alphonsus in Nampa. She’s supposed to get her first dose there Tuesday — she didn’t receive any cancellation notice — so she’s planning on showing up and hoping for the best.


In the race to get her husband rescheduled, she said if it were available, she might’ve made a second appointment for herself.


“And I'm sure many people feel the same way, because now that we know they can cancel it at a moment's notice, you've got to have a backup plan,” Peter said.  


Vaccine distributors are asking patients not to make more than one appointment, as cancellations could lead to wasted doses. However, several people told Boise State Public Radio they had signed up for multiple wait lists and pursued multiple paths to try to get the COVID-19 vaccine.


For some, the process went more smoothly. Anne Suk from Fremont County wrote in an email that she was impressed with her health district’s sign-up process. She and her husband, both over 65, are set to get the vaccine next week at an Eastern Idaho Public Health office. 


After signing up to be notified by the health district when appointments were available, they received texts and calls last week telling them they could schedule shots Saturday morning. Within five minutes, they’d received their confirmations. The health district said its 2,000 appointments were taken in 20 minutes.


Similarly, Gary Apter and his significant other were both able to get appointments with Saint Alphonsus in Boise. His is on Friday and hers was last Saturday.


“She said Saint Alphonsus was first class,” Apter said. 


Earlier on, before a friend sent him a web link to sign up with Saint Alphonsus, though, Apter said he was frustrated by the lack of vaccination information available to him through his primary care doctor and the health district. 


The sentiment was shared by many Treasure Valley residents, including Kathy Peter.


“They had plenty of lead time to figure this out, and they obviously did not make good use of that time,” Peter said. “So, wish me luck.”

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen  

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