What It’s Like Trying to Get A COVID-19 Vaccine In The U.S. Right Now

Danielle Sinay
·17 min read

At first, the COVID-19 vaccine felt like a light at the end of a tunnel. And it still is, though we weren’t necessarily expecting the actual vaccine rollout to be quite so convoluted. Between crashing booking sites, conflicting eligibility requirements depending on your state, and the fact that there are seemingly no available appointments in certain areas, many people who need vaccines for themselves or for their loved ones simply can’t get them, and are left with no clue or guidance regarding what to do.

There’s a lot of confusion and heightened stress around the vaccine rollout all over the country, so we asked real people to share their experiences with vaccine distribution in their areas thus far. Here’s what they had to say.

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Diandra K., High School Teacher

Pawtucket, Rhode Island

“I interact with up to sixteen students and an additional five or so staff once or twice a week. According to Rhode Island’s timeline, I will be eligible in mid-June. I feel strongly that teachers and anyone in an education or child care role should be eligible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it should be fine to go back into schools if schools can follow conditions such as distancing, masking, pods, and proper ventilation, however very few schools can actually check all of these boxes. I worry about the spread in school affecting my students and their families, since some live in multigenerational households. It just makes sense to me that if we want kids back in schools and schools functioning in the same way that they used to, we should create the safest possible conditions in schools, which now include the possibility to vaccinate school staff.

It’s been tough seeing friends in other places who are also educators, such as New York and LA, get vaccinated, and wondering why their state governments prioritize their health more than my state government prioritizes mine. It’s hard not to feel helpless. There are massive inequities in different communities, and line jumping, and links to register for appointments being shared from eligible people to non-eligible groups. Even just categorizing people as ‘eligible’ is terrible. We are all eligible for the vaccine if we want it, just not prioritized.”

Joyce S., Biologist & Infectious Disease Lab Technician

Bronx, New York

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“I’m eligible as an essential healthcare worker, but it was a huge mess. Initially, I was supposed to get my vaccination through work. I called several times in order to set a specific time and date for my vaccination, but my efforts were always in vain given that they would always either transfer me to different people like a ping pong ball. Then we got an email that vaccination scheduling had been suspended. Later on I found out that allegedly they had allowed people who weren’t supposed to get the vaccine yet to get it before everyone that qualified for phase one. Finding a slot on the state vaccination sites was hard. I logged into the website for two or three days and did this several times a day.

As a biologist, [the rollout] also makes me nervous. Vaccine hesitancy scares me a lot, and distribution is a big issue. There is a lot of inequity in the world and I worry that will be further amplified by vaccine inaccessibility. One of my other major concerns is that vaccination is not happening fast enough, but quarantine fatigue is at an all-time high, and people are becoming more careless and paying less attention. I’m scared that vaccines will go to waste due to people’s carelessness and selfishness.”

Sarah P., Food Production Team Member

Freeborn County, Minnesota

“Vaccines are supposed to be available through local pharmacies and caregivers. But where I live, there are no appointments available anywhere I’ve looked. I’ve been looking for weeks at Walmart, HyVee, Walgreens, Mayo Clinic Health and the county and state government sites. When you look on the state site it’s a convoluted mess trying to find anything about where to get an appointment. Mayo Clinic site basically says, ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you’. There has been no straightforward way to find an appointment or register to get on a list. I feel so sorry for the elderly that don’t use smartphones or computers and have no clue where to begin. I use both and am having trouble.

I have scoured the internet looking, checking every couple days and always the same result, ‘no appointments are currently available in your area.’ Last night my husband and I finally were able to register on the county site. At least now we are finally on someone’s list. It’s stressful trying to weed your way through the internet, searching for days for an avenue to get us there. And it’s not just us, but our elderly parents are trying to find appointments too.”

Maya R., Student

Hudson Valley, New York

“I live in a college dorm and ten of us share two bathrooms. I have in-person classes and interact with my peers daily, and I’m eligible for the vaccine due to my weight. It took a few hours [to make an appointment] but I was grateful to even get one. The only available appointments were in Syracuse, which is three hours away. I do have a car, but seven hours is a long drive for one person. A few friends of my friends also got an appointment in Syracuse but don’t have transportation. So right now there is a debacle of how to get them there.

I am really excited to get the vaccine but given my extensive history of [experiencing] medical bias, I am also anxious. At first, I wasn’t going to get the vaccine, but after some reflection, I decided it was the best decision for myself and the community. I live in a high-risk environment and have a high chance of contracting covid. Theoretically, if I were to get the virus, I would not get adequate healthcare. Getting vaccinated is helping me manage the stress and anxiety of being in college during this global pandemic, especially when society paints Covid as a death sentence to fat folks.”

Sydney J., Art Director

Tuscaloosa, Alabama

“The vaccine rollout has been frustrating for me as an immunocompromised person who has really struggled through this pandemic, and is still not eligible for the vaccine in my state. While I do understand — for the most part — why the vaccine rollout has been conducted the way it has, I do wish there was more of a push to get vaccines to those with immune system and/or respiratory complications like myself. The main impact [on my mental health] is the stress I incur day-to-day as I try to live life as normally as possible knowing the risks of someone like me contracting the virus. There’s a lot I’m no longer able to do.

I think it’s important that we all try to be empathetic with one another right now and try to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. We’re all going through a lot with this virus violating our lives in one way another. I also think it’s important to be focusing on our overall health and wellness, both mental and physical. “

Frances Z., Producer

Brooklyn, New York

“I don’t put much stock in BMI as a health indicator, so using it to determine whether I was able to get a vaccine felt morally like a grey area. On top of that, for me there’s a lot of shame in saying, ’I’m obese’ and really owning that as an identifier of self. In explaining to my family that I was eligible because my BMI qualifies as obese, I felt a dissonance between how I view myself and what that word means. It’s hard to swallow. Plus, there are many incarcerated people who are at greater risk for Covid than the general population as well as working people who have been in person and are not yet eligible. Honestly, it feels wrong to be able to ‘skip’ the line and get a vaccine slot due to my weight. I feel a great deal of guilt.

I wish I had more targeted advice but the main thing I would say is that we shouldn’t have to rely on corporations like CVS or individuals like the folks who are using Twitter to disseminate information on vaccine slots to get people vaccinated. The technological impediments make it nearly impossible for people to book these appointments. There’s so much to be improved upon.”

Brittany A., Social Worker & Caregiver

Lawrence, Massachusetts

“Most of my clients are high risk, but the inaccessibility and lack of appointments makes me feel bad because I got my vaccine way before most of them. My second job is direct caregiver to a woman who is high risk and even she hasn’t been able to get the vaccine. Massachusetts is pushing everyone to these “Mass Vax” sites that are at major sporting arenas that aren’t easily accessible. I also work in an area with a high population of non-English speakers and immigrants who face barriers to accessing care, so the websites aren’t helpful in booking for people who have limited English or technology skills.

The state is focusing on pushing vaccines towards the big sites, taking vaccines away from towns who can get it to their most needy residents. Towns say they’re getting less vaccines because the state is pushing for them to go to Gillette stadium and Fenway Park. Masshealth offers transport but the appointment needs to be scheduled at least 1-2 weeks ahead of time which is hard to plan with rapidly changing vaccination locations and availability. “

Jennifer R., Writer & Editor

Los Angeles, California

“The frustrating part to me is that the tiers don’t seem to make sense in my county. If you’re someone with a compromised immune system due to an underlying health condition — which would put you at greater risk for severe Covid — but you happen to be under 65, you’re not eligible to receive the vaccine until the tier right before the tier that’s basically ‘everyone else.’ There’s no one really to talk to about this. Instead, it feels like we all are relying on word of mouth on where to get appointments and what’s available now. A friend shared that she heard San Diego is now allowing appointments for workers in essential and frontline industries, and I made an appointment. I have to drive three hours but I’m willing to do it because I’m in a hospital regularly for treatment related to my health condition.

It’s stressful and disappointing to see so many obstacles as well as hear of people who don’t have a compromised immune system jump ahead of the line because they work adjacent to the healthcare industry or have been able to wait in crowded lines for leftovers at vaccine sites. No one with a compromised immune system can do something like that, yet we are some of the folks who probably need to be vaccinated most.”

Cara L., Social Media Manager

Edmond, Oklahoma

“Vaccine rollout in Oklahoma is a bit complicated. I’m a Navy Veteran and cannot get a vaccine through the VA because Veteran Affairs is rolling out their vaccines in a totally different way. I have to go through the Oklahoma State Department of Health if I want a vaccine earlier. I am also a tribal member and my parents and brother have already received the vaccine through Indian Health Services. I am now eligible within Oklahoma’s phase plans. I had to check every hour to see if any appointments were open. I finally got an appointment late last night but that was after a week of checking over and over again. I may run into a transportation issue if I can’t find a ride.

If they were serious about getting people vaccinated, they should have just held drive-through vaccinations and vaccinated everyone in sight. If you get even healthy people vaccinated, that still protects people with health problems, because healthy people are riskier. The best way to eliminate that risk is to vaccinate everyone. Also, not everyone is good at signing up through online portals, nor does everyone have the means to do that. A PS5 and an Xbox Series X were easier to get than a vaccine. I got them both.”

Emily D., Comedian & Writer

New York, New York

“I’m eligible based on BMI, and I’ve received a vaccine. My two fat friends and I all took turns constantly refreshing various vaccine lists. As soon as one of us saw something open up, we texted one another. There were a few false alarms in making the appointment where I thought there was availability and at the conclusion of all the forms, found there were not. In my case, having to self-identify as ‘obese’ for the first time over and over again was in many ways painful as that word is extremely loaded for me.

As an eating disorder survivor and fat activist who fully thinks the BMI is crap, the inclusion of ‘obese’ in the rollout caused complicated feelings. Part of my eating disorder recovery is not weighing myself and doing blind weights at the doctor. That said, I presumed I would qualify based on the classification of ‘obese’ and subsequently had to look at my weight for the first time as a larger-bodied person. Ultimately, I made the decision to move forward with my vaccine based on these circumstances, but it was not as straight-forward, emotionally speaking, as I would have hoped.”

Robert S., I.T. Specialist

St. Peters, Missouri

“[The rollout is] a mess. We live in the most populated region of Missouri, yet vaccines even for people in the highest tiers have been near impossible to get. Our regional task force and the city and counties around here are doing everything they can to get vaccines, but the State of Missouri is sending vaccines to rural counties where they can’t even get enough people to show up. Look at Cape Girardeau County. [A large portion] of the population has been vaccinated. Meanwhile, in the St. Louis Metro area, people who are at the highest risk have to drive hours to try and find a vaccine.

I try to remain positive, and know that there are far more others in my area who are at much higher risk than I am. So instead of focusing on me, I try to focus on what we can all do to make sure the most vulnerable get vaccinated. Luckily, I live in an area that has been very good at social distancing and masking from the get-go. And I have nothing but praise for our local leaders.”

Annabelle H., High School Teacher

Charleston, South Carolina

“My husband and I were eligible for a short period, long enough to schedule our vaccines, but then our state governor changed his mind and rearranged the priorities excluding educators for Phase 1 in South Carolina. I absolutely feel torn about this, but I believe my husband and I should be eligible to get a Covid vaccine due to our job status as educators of high school students. Despite them not being known as spreaders of the virus, we risk our lives daily to keep our students engaged, our children enrolled at separate school and daycare facilities — we have a one and two year old — and our sanities intact as we consistently turn down social invitations with our beloved friends and acquaintances.

We feel fortunate to have jobs during a time when many do not, and lucky to have each other as partners. However we have absolutely sacrificed our mental health during this time. With two babies, two full-time teaching jobs, a pandemic, bills that pile up despite our side hustles in tutoring and a Friday tapmaster position for my husband, we don’t have the resources for self-care right now. We dream of it one day, though!”

Miranda M., Business Strategist

Somerville, Massachusetts

“I made an appointment for my mother, and it took eight hours to book once her age bracket was eligible. The website crashed as soon as it opened to this group. I believe there were one million people who became eligible that day with only 70,000 vaccination slots available — it was every man for himself. I decided to help with the process because both of my parents were becoming incredibly stressed out about their ability to book an appointment, to the point where it was causing my mother chest pain. I wouldn’t say I took over the process so much as I was another chance at booking an appointment. The more people you have trying to book an appointment for one person, the better your odds were at getting one.

This system was built for the privileged. I was lucky that I was able to spend an entire day trying to book a vaccine appointment for my mother because I have a job where I can afford to do that. I am also lucky that when I become eligible, I can flex my schedule to accommodate whatever appointment I can get. Most people cannot do that, and I think we need to find a system that better accommodates those who are not in privileged positions. If you have people in your network who are able to help you book an appointment, use their assistance.”

Omotunde O., Account Executive

Atlanta, Georgia

“I am high risk, I was diagnosed with hereditary Cushings Disease when I was in college. My mother died from it when I was eighteen. It was caught at the end of her life and my sister, who’s a doctor, recommended I get tested because my blood pressure and blood sugars were consistently high. We ended up finding a golf ball sized tumor on my left side adrenal gland. I got it taken out in 2013, but still present as diabetic and hypertensive. I’ve been under a doctor’s care and medication since. I joke that I have the internal organs of a geriatric.

I’m not currently eligible in Georgia. They are still in Phase 1A and I would be eligible in Phase 1C, but there is no established timeline. I’m not happy that I’m ineligible, but I don’t think the virus discriminates. I think anyone who is able to get a vaccine should get one. Healthy, young people can die from it, and older people can survive it. I only wish I had the access to make an appointment. I don’t think there is ever going to be a perfect way for a rollout. I do believe most states and institutions in place are trying their best, but sociological impediments are always going to be a factor in overall access to healthcare.”

Kate F., Factory Operations Manager

Red Hook, New York

“I currently oversee facility operations for a food and beverage company, managing 20 employees in person. I live with my husband and three-year-old daughter. My factory was deemed essential at the beginning of the pandemic, and being an essential worker who is government-mandated to show up and keep producing and then not being eligible to obtain the vaccine is completely illogical. I don’t think I’m more eligible than anyone else deemed essential, I just think I should be able to get it before those who work from home and do not have preexisting conditions. We are risking our health and lives by showing up to work.

I’m pissed. [The rollout] is an indication of how little thought or care politicians give to the working class. Of course by now we are all painfully aware of this. Unfortunately, not being eligible to receive the vaccine makes it even more apparent in a cruel way. What are we supposed to do? Stop working? We are being forced to balance losing our livelihood or losing our health. Meanwhile, the vaccines exist.”

Before you go, check out the best kids face masks you (probably) won’t have to wrestle on to tiny faces:

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