August 2, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Column: It took me just minutes to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment. In Alaska

I’ve got good news and bad on the coronavirus front.

The good news is that I was able to get an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccination this Thursday afternoon.

The bad news is that it’s at a Costco in Anchorage, Alaska.

I mean, that’s a long flight from Los Angeles, and the round-trip fare is $581 on Alaska Airlines. And this was for the Moderna vaccine, which requires two shots, so to go through with this would cost me $1,162 in travel.

Like many seniors, I got confused last week by the flurry of mixed messages about who could get vaccinated in Los Angeles County. And when I couldn’t schedule anything locally, despite spending hours on the Kroger site and searching for information on both the county and the City of Pasadena websites, I got curious about other states, many of which reportedly have had better rollouts than California.

I don’t know why it is that after waiting months and months for the development of vaccines, federal, state and local governments have so bollocksed up the distribution of the life-saving medication, even as the death toll approaches 400,000.

Last week, when The Times reported that California had used only a fraction of its available vaccines, Palos Verdes Estates resident Norman Eagle was ticked off at California Gov. Gavin Newsom and L.A. County officials. The senior citizen was also confused, as were many others, about Newsom’s call for those 65 and older to begin getting the vaccine — a recommendation that included no details about how or where to accomplish that.

“My personal attempts to find out about getting vaccinated has been extremely frustrating,” said Eagle, one of several seniors who told me about their desire to crack the system and get the protection they’ve been waiting on for months.

On Jan. 13, Eagle scheduled a vaccination for himself at a Ralphs on Jan. 26.

“But when I physically went there the next day to see if I could get an earlier appointment,” Eagle said, “they told me all scheduled appointments are going to be canceled because L.A. County intervened and said [Ralphs] can’t give shots to 65 and older until all health care workers and first responders get theirs.”

Ralphs is owned by Kroger, and when I heard late last week that some people were able to get vaccinations, or at least make appointments on the Kroger.com website, I spent a lot of time over the next few days trying but failing to get an appointment myself. Dr. Gene Dorio, an elder-care specialist who makes house calls in Santa Clarita, told me to keep trying, because his wife had gotten an appointment for mid-February.

So I kept trying, even though it seemed a little strange to me that I might end up going to a supermarket for a life-saving vaccination. That’s a shopping list I never thought I’d write: pound of ground beef, sack of potatoes, head of lettuce, 12-pack of beer and a coronavirus vaccination.

If L.A. County officials didn’t want Ralphs to jump the gun here, because we still had hundreds of thousands of front-line healthcare workers to vaccinate before moving on to 65-year-olds, I was OK with that reasoning. It does, however, conflict with what Newsom had said.

But as The Times has reported, lots of healthcare workers have been reluctant to get vaccinated, including 40% of the employees at the Los Angeles Fire Department. As of Friday, The Times reported, only 40% had been inoculated, and Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas was giving them a nudge by entering vaccinated firefighters into a raffle with prizes including home security cameras, bicycles and gift cards funded by the nonprofit LAFD Foundation.

OK, look. You wouldn’t have to give me a ham sandwich as incentive to get the shot. Even with reports of a relatively limited number of allergic reactions to inoculations, which have led to temporary suspension of one batch of vaccine, I’d still be willing to take my chances.

So why do seniors, who have been hit hardest by the virus, have to wait for reluctant firefighters to do the right thing in the interest of public health? Aren’t public health and safety their mandate?

On Monday afternoon, Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger told KNX-AM (1070) that “people 65 and above should be included no matter what” in the current round of vaccinations, noting that the city of Long Beach, which has its own health department, has managed to begin inoculating that group.

The patchwork policies and directives have been confounding in every phase of the coronavirus dating back to early last year, adding to public fears and exhaustion. After the promised “warp speed” development of the vaccines, what we have now is anything but speedy and efficient execution, and part of the problem is that the federal government hasn’t shipped nearly as many vaccines to states as earlier promised.

Barger said on KNX that with 10 million residents, COVID-19 response is no small undertaking. But she said the county needs to develop, ASAP, a website where people 65 and older can either make an appointment for a vaccine or sign onto a waiting list.

“We have to do a better job,” Barger said, adding, “I want this in real time … not bureaucratic time.”

I haven’t been to Alaska since I flew up there after former Gov. Sarah Palin said that you could see Russia from Alaska, responding to criticism that she didn’t have enough foreign policy experience to be Sen. John McCain’s vice-presidential running mate.

I went all the way to Nome, Alaska, to verify this and even with binoculars, I couldn’t see Russia, but I did find myself craving a shot or two of vodka.

It’s a different shot I’m after now, and it took me only about 10 minutes to negotiate the website of the Alaska public health department for a list of places where vaccinations were being administered. The first two locations I looked up didn’t have any available appointments, and then I tried the Costco pharmacy on 330 W. Dimond Blvd. in Anchorage, which didn’t ask me for a Costco membership number and didn’t spit me out when I listed my California address.

Maybe I was just lucky, because when I tried again later in the day, no more appointments were available. But a few minutes after I booked my Thursday appointment, I got an email asking me to confirm or cancel.

I’m going to cancel and wait for California to get it together.

I hope I don’t regret that decision.

steve.lopez@latimes.com