As a nurse at a private school, Mary Dyra-Hamel was anxious to get a vaccine against COVID-19, but had a hard time lining up a vaccination appointment.
When her email chain of about 40 private school nurses alerted her to a Jewel-Osco pharmacy in Orland Park that was giving shots to medical workers, she jumped at the chance. She signed up on New Year’s Eve, got her first shot by Jan. 2 and her second dose by late January.
“We were all desperately trying to get the vaccine since all our fellow nurses who work at hospital systems had already gotten them,” she said.
She also got her 93-year-old grandmother vaccinated through Cook County’s online registration. But the teachers at her school, the British International School of Chicago in the South Loop, are on standby to get shots through the Chicago Department of Public Health.
“They’re very frustrated,” Dyra-Hamel said. “That’s become a big part of my job, trying to find somebody to vaccinate the teachers.”
Across the state, nearly 1.2 million doses had been reported as administered as of Thursday, but that was just slightly more than half of all doses received by the state. Many people have been frustrated just trying to get an appointment.
Among more than 150 readers who told the Tribune in an informal online survey about their experiences trying to get the vaccine, Dyra-Hamel was among the earliest to get it. Most of those who responded said the hardest part was trying to sign up for an opening, while actually getting the shot was easy. Many said they spent a long time scrambling to sign up online, and lucked out to get a slot.
One survey respondent (who didn’t want his name used) described the process as “vaccine roulette.”
Kathleen Porter had tried signing up through Walgreens, Elmhurst and Loyola hospitals, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, because her husband served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam. She had no luck with any of those venues.
But when she signed up with Oak Street Health in Bellwood, where her primary doctor works, the clinic called her back and scheduled immediate appointments for her and her husband. Still, her adult son, who has multiple medical conditions, has not been able to get an appointment anywhere.
“I know how fortunate I was,” she said.
As an African American woman, she said she recognized some people have concerns about the vaccine. But having seen the benefits of vaccines ever since they were developed for polio in the 1950s, and after an acquaintance recently died of COVID-19, Porter felt it was important to protect herself.
Elizabeth Christofylakis was not so lucky seeking an appointment. She spent hours online over several days, clicking over and over on various websites, waiting and refreshing, searching for an opening. When she heard that Cook County Department of Public Health opened a new website in January, she went online clicking over and over until she got through. She eventually got her shot at a North Riverside clinic — but then had to go online again to schedule her second dose.
“It’s ludicrous to me,” she said. “Scheduling was a nightmare. If you’re not tech savvy or don’t have the time, it’s very difficult. I can’t picture my older relatives doing it.”
At the vaccination site, staffed by the Illinois National Guard, vaccinators told her that when people didn’t show up for appointments, their doses were typically thrown out because they don’t last indefinitely. Chrystofylakis said there should be some system to provide those shots to others.
Efforts are underway at some sites to administer any unused doses by the end of the day before they spoil, Illinois National Guard Lt. Col. Brad Leighton said. As an example, he said, police were called in to use up any leftover doses recently at a vaccination site in Arlington Heights. In general, health officials said, there have been very few no-shows, because demand for the shots is so high.
In response to complaints about securing appointments, Dr. Rachel Rubin, of the Cook County Department of Public Health, said the demand for shots is far exceeding the supply. On Monday, the county website had 1.9 million visits in the first hour, which slowed down the ability to load the page. The county booked 3,400 appointments in half an hour.
Rubin thanked people for their patience, and suggested trying any of the more than 130 partner locations including Jewel-Osco, Mariano’s and federally qualified health centers, listed at https://coronavirus.illinois.gov/s/vaccination-location.
In DuPage County, the health department noted that more than 200,000 people have registered through its website, and it has sent appointment notifications to just 2,773 of them since last week.
Because some 330,000 people qualify under the current phase 1a and 1b, and supply is limited, county officials said, it will probably take several weeks before most people get an appointment.
The wait is frustrating many older people, who are most at risk of dying from the coronavirus. Linda Fay, a 75-year-old resident of the Irving Park neighborhood in Chicago, said her experience trying to get the shot as been “awful.”
She signed up on several sites online, including Cook County and several pharmacies, and been alerted to openings occasionally, but when she checks online, there are no openings.
Advocate Aurora Health officials emailed her to say they would notify her of any openings, but that’s the last she’s heard from them. Her doctor told her to try Walgreens, which was no help. She feels that older people have been overlooked unless they live in a nursing home.
“It’s like, don’t call us, we’ll call you,” she said. “It seems like we’re being forgotten. I’d like to live my life.”