Frustrated Iowa residents are crowdsourcing locations and availability for COVID-19 vacccine doses on social media and through personal networks in lieu of state assistance. With state preparation for distributing the vaccine lacking, the lucky Iowans who have gotten a vaccine typically have done so after significant searching.
It’s on Facebook groups, Reddit posts and Twitter threads where Iowa residents tip each other off when a pharmacy receives a batch of vaccines, a local Hy-Vee updates their website with additional appointment slots.
And it’s on these social network platforms where Iowa residents note a general lack of help the state has provided in receiving these precious shots.
“I’m 72 and got my first vaccine a few days ago. I am LUCKY to have three separate groups of female friends who were supportive as we muddled through the raggedy systems trying hour by hour and day by day to find openings,” said one Beaverdale woman on Facebook in a local group.
“Saw your post at like 1:15 today and bolted out of my house to get one. Thank you for the heads up on this,” said one Reddit user to another after seeing a post with vaccination information.
“Nice! It’s crazy how it seems like this was only a word of mouth thing. Glad that others saw the post!” the first Reddit user responded.
After lingering for weeks near the bottom of all U.S. states in delivering and administering vaccine doses to its residents, Iowa is now nearing the middle of the country as far as distribution rates.
But the back end of Iowa’s movement upwards shows a less promising picture. Waterloo resident Linda Buttgen said her experience finding a vaccine appointment was “frustrating” and “depressing.”
It began by her searching for appointments online several hours for a number of days, she said, before finally securing a slot at a local Walgreens for her husband and herself.
“We were excited. But on the day of the appointments, we happened to run into a friend who said his parents had also gotten an appointment at Walgreens, but when they arrived for the shot they were told that they had not received a confirmation so the appointment actually didn’t exist,” she said.
Buttgen said she went home and called Walgreens to confirm her appointments only to find out that they also did not exist.
“The disappointment was devastating. We have isolated since March of last year,” Buttgen said.
Buttgen then saw a social media post that CVS had shots—she went to their site and again spent days attempting to get an appointment, finally securing some at 5:15 a.m. one morning.
“People are using social media because there are no other resources out there,” Buttgen said. “Our governor has done a criminal job when it comes to COVID-19. Our health departments—both state and local—are also doing nothing to assist with scheduling vaccines and their websites are a waste of time. The frustration and depression I have experienced because of the failure of Kim Reynolds to take this pandemic seriously have been overwhelming.”
Reynolds was pressed on Wednesday at her weekly press conference about the obstacles that Iowans, especially seniors, face in booking vaccine appointments. Many struggle with finding and using online signups at various pharmacies.
Reynolds’ administration on Friday announced it would not award a contract for a vendor to open a call center to help residents find vaccine appointments. The Governor said on Wednesday that the planned Microsoft offer to build an appointment website was also canceled—the state is working on expanding a 211 system instead.
“But when we really dug into what the options were and what was available and the timeline to get that done, it just didn’t make sense for us to move forward,” Reynolds said at her Wednesday press conference.
“Especially with the registration and scheduling component, because of all of the different providers that are tied into that right now and the systems that they had. So we’re continuing to look for ways that we can streamline the process and continue to meet the need of Iowans.”
The current 211 call center cannot make vaccine appointments for people, Reynolds said.
After being pushed again on what to do if seniors are really struggling to find vaccines, Reynolds said “calling AAA” (Area Agency on Aging) would be the first place to start.
“The frustration with trying to get my 89-year-old ‘young’ mother vaccinated was going to put me over the top,” said Cedar Falls resident Susan Smith in an interview with Iowa Starting Line.
It was on Facebook where she “cracked the scheduling code,” and later shared her own experience.
“If I can eliminate the frustration of others trying to refresh sites all day in hopes of landing an appointment, I thought my scheduling experience was worth sharing.”
by Isabella Murray
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