A driver waits at the COVID-19 mass vaccination site Feb. 9 at the Arlington Municipal Airport. (Julie Muhlstein / The Herald)

A driver waits at the COVID-19 mass vaccination site Feb. 9 at the Arlington Municipal Airport. (Julie Muhlstein / The Herald)

Getting Dad, 98, the shot was more than he could do alone

Helped by technology, I managed to get a shot in Arlington. For many, online scheduling is a barrier.

The text — “Done deal” — came Feb. 13 along with a photo of an elderly man in a wheelchair. That man, my father, had turned 98 just the day before. My brother sent the cellphone message to say Dad had gotten his first dose of the Moderna vaccine, a lifesaving shield against COVID-19.

My father’s shot was one of thousands given at a mass vaccination clinic in the Spokane Arena. Getting his appointment took far more effort than he could manage on his own. Our dad used to send an occasional email. He no longer uses a computer at all.

For his generation, he’s far from alone in that. About a third of U.S. adults ages 65 and older said in a 2016 survey that they never used the internet. And 49% in the Pew Research Center study said they lacked home broadband services.

For Dad to get that shot, it took my brother-in-law, who was away on a trip, spending hours in an online queue to snag an appointment. I’d tried the same thing to help Dad during a recent trip to Spokane. With thousands of vaccine seekers ahead of me, I had given up.

It also took my brother, who lives in Idaho but was staying with Dad, to drive to the arena. It’s an indoor vaccine site, so on that 20-degree morning they used a wheelchair to spare our father a long walk from the car.

Dad’s vaccine came as a relief, of course, because of the protection it gives him. For me, the news also helped assuage guilt — because I had gotten a COVID vaccine first. Should that have been so? I’m only 67.

Several days before my father received his shot, I managed to go online at home in Everett and get an appointment at the Arlington Municipal Airport. That drive-thru mass vaccination site opened Jan. 29. There are three other Snohomish County Vaccine Task Force locations: the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe, the Boeing Activity Center in Everett (shots were formerly administered at Paine Field), and Edmonds College. When doses are available, those three sites administer the Moderna vaccine, while in Arlington it’s Pfizer.

On Feb. 9, I waited about 45 minutes in a line of cars before getting a Pfizer-BioNTech shot, my first dose.

It didn’t hurt at all. Emergency medical services staff from the Snohomish County Fire Task Force were wonderful. On a chilly day, they cheerfully directed traffic as we inched toward the vaccine station, and monitored the 15-minute post-shot waiting area.

What I noticed that day, while thinking of my still unvaccinated father, was that most others around me, many in late-model SUVs, looked to be part of my demographic — people in their 60s or 70s, not their 80s, 90s or 100s.

Some drove for older passengers, but most had driven themselves to the Arlington airport. And like I’d done, most had probably figured out their appointments by navigating websites.

On Tuesday, Nona Anderson left a phone message — for anyone at The Herald who’d listen — expressing frustration in trying to get the vaccine. “We’re 78 years old and my husband has a lung problem,” she said. “And I’ve been trying for three weeks to get an appointment.”

Anderson, of Lake Stevens, said Wednesday she’d waited on the phone more than an hour to talk to someone at the Snohomish Health District, and was eventually told “they’re still waiting” for doses. Now, she’s figured out how to check online for appointments at the county’s mass vaccination sites. By midweek, no luck. She hopes her doctor’s clinic will have doses in the coming week.

As of Friday afternoon, vaccine appointments could not be scheduled at any of the county’s sites because of insufficient supply.

It was Jan. 19 when my husband received his first shot, the Moderna vaccine, at the Monroe fairgrounds. He’s been unable to schedule a second dose within the 28-day time frame originally advised.

Last week, Snohomish County sent him an email alert: “Vaccine supply is still limited, and we do not know exactly how many second doses we will have in the coming weeks,” it said. “This means that you may not be able to register for an appointment on your target date, but don’t worry, the available appointments will still be within the acceptable window for your second dose.”

In Arlington, I was given a CDC vaccination record card listing March 2 as the date for my second Pfizer dose. I’m guessing that won’t happen on time.

So I was cheered by last week’s news reports of two researchers in Canada maintaining the Pfizer vaccine’s efficacy is 92% after just one dose. In recent days, though, finding any dose has been a big challenge.

A Department of Health report, dated Feb. 10, examined “COVID-19 Vaccination Coverage by Race and Ethnicity and Age in Washington State.”

It found that of people initiating vaccination, the highest percentage by age group — 30% — was among those 65 and older. Yet the highest percentage of those fully vaccinated, 4.4%, came among people ages 35-49, while just 2.3 % of those 65 and older were fully vaccinated. In the state’s earliest phase, high-risk health care workers and first responders were among those being vaccinated.

I’m extremely thankful for the shot I received, and for the doses others in my family — all over 65 — have gotten. We’re still cautious. I continue to work from home, keep my distance and wear masks.

Especially for the elderly, getting a shot should be so much easier. All I can offer is this: Keep trying.

Julie Muhlstein: jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com

Finding a vaccine

Check for appointment availability at Snohomish County’s mass vaccination sites: snohomish-county-coronavirus-response-snoco-gis.hub.arcgis.com/pages/covid-19-vaccine

Those unable to register online may phone the county’s COVID-19 call center: 425-339-5278

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