January 14th was a momentous day for me. This was the day I got my first COVID vaccine shot.
Early in the morning on January 13th, a neighbor sent a text to several of us who fit into the 1B COVID vaccination category letting us know that the Austin Public Health Department was setting up two sites, called hubs, that were delivering 12,000 vaccines over a three-day period. They were including individuals who were in the 1B group. Texas identifies 1B as individuals who are 65 years or older or 16 years of age and older with at least one chronic medical condition that puts them at increased risk for severe illness from the virus. I turned 65 in November, so I now fit into this category.
Although the governor had released the vaccine for individuals in both 1A and 1B, finding a site that would administer the vaccine to those of us in 1B has been difficult. The state has a map that identifies where the vaccine has been distributed, but very few of these sites are providing it to those of us in 1B and, if they are, they’ve made it difficult to figure out how to sign up for a vaccine. So you can see why my neighbor’s text was huge news. I immediately jumped on my computer and navigated to the Austin Public Health’s COVID-19 vaccination registration website. I was astonished when I was able to get an appointment for the very next day at 2:00 p.m. Being an early morning person paid off! Within about two hours, the site crashed and the appointments were all taken.
The next morning, I got an email from the Austin Public Health Department letting me know they were allowing people who have an appointment to come any time between the hours of 2-7 p.m. They said they were doing this so that people wouldn’t have to wait in long lines. I called my friend, who also got an appointment, to see if she wanted to go with me. We left Georgetown around 1:30 p.m. and got to the site around 2:00. As we approached the Delco Activity Center we knew this was not going to be a quick in and out procedure. There was a line of cars just to get in the parking lot. Once we finally found a parking spot, we then proceeded to find the end of the line. The line went around the building three times. We knew this would take hours, especially since the line seemed to be going very slowly.
After about forty minutes, I told my friend that I needed to run to the HEB to use the restroom. At that point, I thought we might be there for four to five hours and they had no restroom facilities outside. While I was at HEB, I grabbed us some snacks. We might as well enjoy our time in line!
When I got back, much to my surprise, my friend had made a lot of progress. She had made it around the building, which meant we only had to go around it two more times. Apparently, when they opened at 2:00 p.m., they were collecting information using four laptops. They quickly realized this was not going to be as efficient as having people provide the necessary information using paper forms. (I feel sorry for the individuals who are having to enter all of that data!) The pace picked up once they dispensed with the laptops. Also, some people decided to leave and come back at another time which also shortened the line.
Once we got into the building, the process was extremely well organized. They asked us a few questions, gave us the shot, and then asked us to sit and wait for 15 to 30 minutes to make sure we didn’t have any reactions. The shot wasn’t painful at all. My arm was sore for a couple of days, but that is the only side effect I’ve had. The vaccination hub will provide you with a QR code that takes you to a site where you can register with the CDC. They will send you daily texts for a few days asking you to complete a short questionnaire that inquires about your side effects. I have found this to be comforting.
All in all, the experience was great. Yes, it took me three and a half hours to get the COVID vaccine, but I was very motivated to get the shot. Most of the people waiting in the lines reacted the same way. Oh, there were jokes about having Chick-fil-A organizing the process, but most of us knew the staff was doing the best they could and we were very grateful for their service.
Below is some advice from my experience.
Tips on Getting an Appointment
Until the state standardizes the process, the best way to find places to get a COVID vaccine is by networking. Regional sites like Nextdoor Neighbor have threaded discussions about vaccinations almost daily. I also recommend that you start a text thread of people you know who are eligible for the vaccine and share information. This is how I heard about the Austin site, as well as another place where I am taking a 94-year-old woman from my church to get vaccinated.
Find sites that will let you register so they can contact you when they have the vaccine. They may not have appointments right now, but they will let you know when they have a new supply of the vaccine.
Check in to counties or cities that are close to you. I have heard of several people who drove at least an hour away to get their vaccination. Here is a map that provides where the state has distributed the vaccine. However, so far, this map has not been very helpful. Most of these locations are not currently distributing the vaccine to people in 1B. My friends who drove to other cities to get the shot heard about the location from a family member or a friend, not from this map.
Consider helping an elderly person sign up for the vaccine. Many of them do not have the computer skills that are required to get this done. Most places are not taking walk-up appointments nor do they want you to call them. The volume of inquiries is just too overwhelming. Therefore, they are using technology to enable people to register for appointments and to communicate with you about your appointment. Some of the registration systems are really simple (Brookshire Brothers is using a Google Form) and some are very complex. But for some of our elderly population, the process is just too confusing and complicated for them to navigate. They will need assistance until this gets widely distributed.
Tips for the Day of the COVID Vaccine
Wear a short-sleeved shirt. This seems logical, but I witnessed an elderly man in a wheelchair that wore a long sleeve shirt that didn’t have any buttons. They had to do some creative maneuvers to expose his arm for the shot.
If it is a vaccine hub like the one I went to, be prepared for long lines. You might want to bring some snacks, comfortable shoes, layered clothing, and folding chairs. We saw a man who brought an office chair on wheels! That seemed a little unpractical. Also, consider that you might be outside with no access to a restroom. This isn’t the time to drink a Rt. 44 Coke from Sonic! I learned this the hard way.
If you received an email verifying your appointment, bring that with you. You might also need some type of verification of your age.
I received the Moderna vaccine. It requires me to get a second vaccination 28 days after the first one. They indicated they would contact me to set up the second appointment. However, it doesn’t matter where you get the second dose, just as long as you get it. They provided me with a card that has my name, birthdate, the type of vaccination I received, and the date I received the vaccine. It was recommended that I take a photo of the card in case I lose it. I also contacted my doctor’s office to let them know I got the first shot so it is in my shot record.
I am grateful that I had this opportunity to be vaccinated this quickly. Hopefully my experience will help you navigate the system to get yours soon, too.
If you’ve already gotten your vaccination, share your story and tips in the comments below!