getting my 90 year old grandparents vaccinated, a short story

I feel like we don’t document the banal hellscapes we’ve all been forced to endure these past few years now. I think most hellscapes become banal over time — humans are very adaptable and will sort of default to a state of neutrality even as the world is crumbling around them.

However, I’d like to share my own little slice of the world crumbling around me.

The first coronavirus vaccine was authorized on December 11th, 2020. My 90 year old grandfather received the vaccine on February 13th, 2021, and my 88 year old grandmother received the vaccine on February 15th, 2021. These are only their first doses.

As far as I can tell, for these past few months, no one told them how they were actually supposed to receive the vaccine. It was all over the news — the vaccine was approved, people are getting the vaccines, sites are opening up. They watch the news.

However, they never called me and said anyone had reached out to them from their doctor’s office or Medicare.

So, I guess I took on the task of getting my grandparents vaccinated from 400 miles away. Every day, I would check the news. Specifically, the LA Times. I still have no idea if their coronavirus content is paywalled, so I checked it as sparingly as I could. I checked a lot of government websites as well.

To my everpresent rage — the demographics of who was going to be allowed to get a vaccine after healthcare workers and nursing care residents were people age 65 and older. I had expected it to be 75 and older.

There is a vast, immeasurable difference between people who are 65 and 75. Namely, the number of people alive. There are 30 million people within the range of 65-75. Do you know how many people there are over 75 in general? Just 22 million.

That means the 2nd wave of who was being vaccinated is 16% of the population instead of just 6%. The difference in access to the outside world for those who are 65 vs those who are 90 is drastic. It’s incomparable. I’m still very angry that people who are just a bit older than my parents — healthy, working people, got vaccinated before my grandparents who can’t drive and can barely walk down stairs anymore.

I know that covid has proven that we as Americans do not care about older residents, but let anyone who says our vaccine effort was a big Biden triumph spit and use this story as an example of frustration.

I’d like to repeat — there was no outreach towards my grandparents from the government about the vaccines. I had to compete with 65 year olds who had nothing better to do than sit in their relative youth and take my grandparents’ slots for the vaccine.

Every day, I went onto myturn.ca.gov and put in my grandparent’s information. Every day, I was greeted with a different experience. Some days, they only had 2nd dosages available. Some days, they said they had first dosages available, but I couldn’t find any. A few days, they’d link out to CVS, Walgreens, and other pharmacies but I couldn’t find anything there. Lastly, I stopped checking once I got put on a waitlist. They still haven’t contacted me.

My grandparents have no reliable way of getting to their vaccine other than taking Uber — which is not very good at time restricted activities like a 15-minute appointment. My mom offered to take them, but she asked me to do it on days she wasn’t working. I said I didn’t care, take a sick day, I can’t plan this vaccine around your life. Make it work. I don’t have any other option.

My mom happened to get a message on a group WhatsApp that said CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart were all accepting vaccine appointments. I checked because I always check. Walmart and Walgreens were not, but CVS was. Not only was CVS offering vaccines, they were offering a lot of them. I didn’t care we far we had to drive, it’d been over a month since vaccines for seniors were announced, we need that vaccine.

Keep in mind that it’s been a few days now — remember that official California waitlist I was on? They still haven’t told me about the CVS vaccines. There was no way for me to find out other than meticulously crawling news sites.

I waited in their traffic-locked page for over 2 hours as it refreshed every 30 seconds. Finally, I was let in. Honestly, this was a very complicated form. It was only available in English and Spanish. It took me just a few minutes to fill out, but it was created for a young internet-savvy person. It was not built for a senior audience.

I had to call my grandparents and get their Medicare information. My grandmother said my grandfather was out at the bank and I had no choice but to wait and pray that my slot wasn’t being taken up. During this time, I realized how the saved slot technology was working (I work for OpenTable which is probably one of the biggest companies in the world that uses a timeslot saving logic.) and I opened a new tab for my second grandparent’s appointment.

It was too late. Everything on Friday was taken except for 1 appointment that was far away. There was no way we could make it in time. I skipped ahead to Monday and got an appointment close to their house, bright and early.

I kept both tabs open as I waited for my grandfather to come and give me his Medicare information. At first, he gave me his old Medicare ID number. I was so confused and I was getting helpless, I couldn’t see his ID from 400 miles away. I googled medicare cards so I could see an example photo — luckily I saw that the new ID structure was on cards issued past 2018. “Nana, nana, I need your new medicare card.”

I got both of their appointments scheduled, and I got an email and text confirmation on my phone. I once again wondered who on earth this was built for — my 90 year old grandparents take calls, not texts. No one ever gave me the option for a reminder call (even from a machine). Honestly, who the fuck built this? Who is this entitled and young to not consider their target audience? Fuck the tech industry.

Since there was no formal reminder for my grandparents, they called me 3 times over the next few days. My mom called me, too. I had to tell them again and again when the appointment was.

Once they were finally in person and on the day, everything went smoothly. My mom said that the folks there said there was a huge line in the morning, but it had quieted down by the afternoon.

I’m so frustrated at this process. I’m so frustrated at how this has left seniors behind. I’m glad I was able to get my grandparents vaccinated, but not everyone is this lucky.

This is just a benign little slice of the hellscape. It sucks.