116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
When Tricia Andersen has a break from her job at a fabric store, she goes online. Not to check Facebook or Twitter but to hunt for vaccine appointments.
'Anytime I have a free moment, I pull out my phone,” said the 47-year-old mom from Cedar Rapids. 'I've got about seven links I'm checking two to three times a day to see if anything pops up.”
So far, she's scored appointments for her parents, in-laws, husband, daughter and herself - following guidelines established by the state.
The announcement March 5 that Iowans 64 and younger with some medical conditions were eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine set off a frenzy of Iowans hunting for appointments through disparate online reservation systems. Because the state has advised pharmacies not to require documentation of medical conditions, there are no restrictions - beyond the honor system - for anyone age 16 and up to sign up for a vaccine.
Some advocates are worried the system will leave behind seniors, who were prioritized in the early vaccine phases but now must compete with everyone else trying to snag a shot.
'The process is certainly still frustrating for too many older Iowans,” said Brad Anderson, the Iowa AARP state director.
Iowa's vaccine dashboard says people ages 60-plus have received about 58 percent of the vaccines given in the state, but it doesn't say what share of Iowa seniors have been vaccinated. The AARP would like to see the state provide that information, which is available in other states including Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota.
What has been a big help is the 211 hotline, which has vaccine navigators who help Iowans without internet access or tech skills find vaccine appointments, Anderson said. Iowans who don't get through immediately may leave a message, which is usually returned within 24 hours, he said. To access the 211 service, users may call 211, text their ZIP code to 898211 or visit 211iowa.org.
Anderson warned 211 operators are 'working with the same system you and I are. Appointments might be filled, especially in urban areas.”
There are shortcomings in the vaccine reservation system, which the state has delegated to hospitals and pharmacies across the state.
One problem is the online systems don't allow users to hold their appointment - even for a few minutes - while they complete the registration. This has resulted in Iowans completing a registration form only to find out the opening was claimed by another user while they were filling out the form.
Kathryn Dickel, of Des Moines, was flabbergasted by this flaw and posted about it last week on Facebook.
'Ummm ... I'm not sure who needs to hear this over the at ‘Iowa vaccine ops' but..... proven technology exists (and has for decades) to hold a registration/transaction, and in this case an appointment, until a person can complete it,” she wrote.
'You can even set a time limit for how long they have to complete before the inventory is put back into the queue for someone else ... Most importantly you CAN preserve the ‘order' so that a person doesn't lose their registration to someone else before they are done filling in their information and have to start all over.”
Dickel knows how the technology works because her company, Midwestix, has used it for years to sell tickets to restaurant experiences, concerts and music festivals. She's frustrated the state didn't think to hire a company like hers - a woman-owned Iowa business - to run the vaccine reservation system, she told The Gazette.
Iowa initially announced it would hire Microsoft to create a centralized vaccine reservation system, but then dropped the deal, saying there wasn't enough time to make it work.
Hy-Vee, one of the three pharmacy chains booking vaccine appointments online, said it was aware the online reservation system doesn't hold a user's appointment while he or she fills out the application.
'We continue to provide enhancements to our online scheduling platform, and this is something that our development team has prioritized,” spokeswoman Christina Gayman said in an email Tuesday.
Comments: (319) 339-3157; firstname.lastname@example.org