On Wednesday evening, I got an urgent phone call from a friend saying that Ralphs Pharmacy here in Los Angeles were now accepting appointments for COVID-19 vaccine shots for the group I qualified in. But the slots were filling up really fast, so I should go to their website immediately. He began telling a story about his experience signing up and what went on when he was...and I cut him off instantly without relying on politeness and in his mid-sentence I said, "Goodbye, I'll call you later!" and hung-up.
And it clearly was filling up fast. The first few days were already gone, and when I got a date that was available, but the time I got to the end of the form, that date and time was no longer open. So, I picked another date and time, and the same thing happened when I reached the end. It took four tries before I finally got an appointment for a little over two weeks from now. But huzzah.
I was really surprised to hear about the scheduling, since I hadn't read anything about it on the news, but was very glad for his call. He hadn't known either -- and he's usually on top of most-everything -- but his daughter had called him. And word clearly spread everywhere.
Anyway, yesterday morning, I called Ralphs Pharmacy to find out if they'd be keeping a waiting list in case they got cancellations, since I live walking distance from it -- and it's actually the pharmacy I tend to most use. The person I spoke to said, no, there wouldn't be a waiting list, but then asked when my appointment was for, which surprised me. But I told her, and at this point, the conversation went --
“The appointment’s been cancelled.”
Long pause. “What do you talking about???”
“The appointment has been cancelled. It’s only for healthcare providers. You should be notified.”
Trying to digest this. “What do you mean I should be notified?? Are they planning to send emails?”
“You should get an email about it.”
Taking a deep breath. “This doesn’t make any sense.”
“You should keep the appointment, but right now it’s cancelled. They’ll let you know.”
It made little sense to me, and was a bit disconcerting, needless-to-say. But when it became clear that she didn't actually have information and couldn’t add more than to say that right now they were only giving the vaccine to healthcare workers and that Ralphs might be sending out an email, I knew that there was no pointing in getting upset with her or even arguing. So, as much as I wanted to say, "You handled getting this information across really, really poorly" (after all, if I didn't ask follow-up questions, she would have left it at the perfunctory, "The appointment's been cancelled" -- which it must be noted is also a poor way of phrasing things when you later add, "But keep your appointment") -- I also recognized that they were likely overwhelmed with phone calls and harried, so I said goodbye, ungnashed my teeth, and hung up.
As the day went on, I talked to some people and read articles, and though there was nothing specific to learn, the situation did become a touch more clear and somewhat more comforting. (With an emphasis on the "somewhat.") It appears that Ralphs jumped the gun and wasn’t supposed to create appointments yet. In fact, for that same sign-up form on their website, “Coronavirus” is no longer listed among the options of vaccines that Ralph offers. Press releases from Ralphs as of two days ago, however, say that they are, in fact, now giving the vaccine to healthcare workers.
Equally important to the picture is that a friend in Texas said the exact same thing happened there a couple of weeks ago. There were sign-ups and then it turned out that they didn’t get their allotted vaccine supplies, so everything was put on hold. But what's important to add -- and added to the comfort is that not only did they subsequently get their vaccine supply…but he got his first shot this past Tuesday.
That said, I don’t know exactly where things stand. What I do know is that they said, “Keep your appointment.” And no email has been sent out yet putting anything on hold. Also, most people who signed up have times that are still a week or two weeks off. And the Biden Administration is coming in next Tuesday, so there is probably a big push now to get vaccine out. In addition, we know that Ralphs Pharmacy does, in fact, have vaccine which they are currently giving to healthcare workers. And we know, too, that 30 million doses have been distributed but only about 10 million shots have been given. So…it seems like things should be fine. Though I don’t know.
But also, there is a possible good side to this, at least on a personal level. The screw-up by Ralphs of jumping the gun early may explain why there were no big news stories about it – which in the end helped allow people to sign up for an appointment so early before there was a huge public rush. So, assuming they do get it worked out, everyone who now already has an appointment probably has it earlier (perhaps much earlier) than they would have had otherwise.
And again, it remains comforting my friend in Texas said that this exact same thing happened there, and he not only kept his appointment, but got his shot earlier this week.
Of course, this all presumes that they do get their new allotment. If not, they will have a huge mess on their hands for all the people who signed up the earliest and find their appointments cancelled, pushing them back into the pool.
When I had that phone conversation this morning with the pharmacy it was – as you might imagine – very weird and disturbing and very poorly handled. But knowing more now, while still in a state of uncertainty, I do feel better about it. And I especially feel at least a sense of comfort from being told, “Keep your appointment.” And if and when there is any update – including to say that appointments remain on schedule – emails will be sent out.
Anyway, that’s the news, which I suspect is good to know for other areas when they get their vaccine allotment and start to make appointments.
Thankfully, there is a vaccine. And it will get administered soon. But it's Impressive how smooth and impeccably well-organized everything about handling the pandemic and protecting the country has been by the Trump administration which alas, unlike the coronavirus, did completely disappear last March.
January 20th can't come soon enough.
UPDATE: There is an addendum to all this.
Since writing my column, an article in the Washington Post appeared which may be the explanation for the problem at Ralphs Pharmacy. While Ralphs is at fault for jumping the gun, it will not shock you to learn that what caused the larger problems is probably because the Trump administration was lying. Here’s the opening of the article –
“When Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced Tuesday that the federal government would begin releasing coronavirus vaccine doses held in reserve for second shots, no such reserve existed, according to state and federal officials briefed on distribution plans. The Trump administration had already begun shipping out what was available beginning at the end of December. Now, state and local officials across the country are realizing their limited vaccine supply will not immediately increase, dashing hopes of dramatically expanding access for millions of people.”
Y'know, it makes it oh-so much easlier to run your operation at "Warp speed" when you don't have to deliver what you promised.
Hopefully there’s enough time between now and my appointment – and with the Biden Team taking over in five days – for them to get a supply out and I can keep the date. But I’m not holding my breath on that. The next hope is that when they do start rescheduling appointments that Ralphs will keep the current schedule and just move those to the front of the line where they were.
For those interested, you can find the full Washington Post article here.