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Nation & World

COVID-19 Vaccinations Easy To Schedule In Some States. In Others, Not So Much

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines has been slow in the U.S. And among the states, Georgia is near the bottom. When people in Georgia have succeeded in getting vaccinated, it has been through luck, persistence or a combination of both. Grant Blankenship of Georgia Public Broadcasting has more.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Stay in your car, and somebody'll come right to you, OK?

GRANT BLANKENSHIP, BYLINE: Larry Dillard had high hopes when he drove up to the Bleckley County Health Department a few Mondays ago.

LARRY DILLARD: Well, I was hoping to get a shot this morning but seems to be some confusion as to whether or not there's a vaccine here or...

BLANKENSHIP: The health department had been listed for days prior as a no-appointment, drive-up COVID-19 vaccination location. But Dillard was not alone in learning from the sign at the edge of the parking lot that it was canceled.

DILLARD: So it's just been really frustrating, and there needs to be some other method of getting the word out to people.

BLANKENSHIP: As frustrating as it was to not get the vaccine...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Just show up out here next week.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Show up next week.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Thank y'all so much.

BLANKENSHIP: The people who came to the Bleckley County Health Department were lucky. They saw health workers in person in the parking lot and left with vaccine appointments, mostly for the following week. Meanwhile, across Georgia, people were left calling their local health departments, acknowledged as underfunded and underequipped for the task not only by the state's head of public health but also the governor. And as health department phone lines crashed, people compared the process to dialing for concert tickets, a subtle nod to baby boomers, or, like Monica Miller, Gen Xers dialing for their parents. Miller's mom in rural Crawford County tried to make the call herself, starting at 9 in the morning. She lasted half an hour.

MONICA MILLER: Well, she really was frustrated. So I was thinking to myself, oh, OK, we're just going to keep trying.

BLANKENSHIP: So Miller turned to high tech.

MILLER: I went to my app store, and I found an app that said redial app.

BLANKENSHIP: The redial app let Miller tell her phone, OK, call the health department, wait 10 seconds, then try again. That gave her time to hear a busy signal or when someone picked up. The app dialed more than 400 times over the next six hours.

MILLER: So finally, about 3:45, it picked up. And it says, you are placed in queue.

BLANKENSHIP: After that, it was quick. She got appointments for her parents at a vaccine site a county over, about 40 miles away - success.

MILLER: But for the way that I did it, like, I would not expect the average senior to be able to do that.

BLANKENSHIP: But finding the first dose is just the first test of patience. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require a second booster shot. Former nurse Sashie Brown spent days finding a private vaccine provider an hour and a half away. Brown says when she sat down for the first shot, she asked the technician when she could schedule the booster.

SASHIE BROWN: She said, oh, I can't do that. And I said, well, what do you mean - said, well, we're not sure we'll have the vaccine. And I thought, well, that might be a real problem.

BLANKENSHIP: Brown says the clinic promised they'll call her when they have more vaccine for a booster dose. Meanwhile, just in case, she's combing through the provider list again.

Back in Bleckley County...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Hey, hon. You need to make an appointment.

BLANKENSHIP: Larry Dillard says surely someone in charge can make getting vaccinated against COVID-19 easier.

DILLARD: I don't know how you deal with all that, but, you know, we put a man on the moon in the '60s. We ought to be able to figure this out.

BLANKENSHIP: The Biden administration has already promised to figure it out.

For NPR News, I'm Grant Blankenship in Macon, Ga.

(SOUNDBITE OF BONOBO'S "RECURRING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.