Scoring the Shot: How to lose the frustration and find a COVID-19 vaccine appointment

MADISON, Wis. – Many are breathing a sigh of relief that they’re now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, but it can quickly lead way to frustration when trying to book an appointment.

Vaccine demand still outpaces supply, meaning not enough appointments to go around.

While many are trying to answer the call to get vaccinated, Stacey Knott is taking calls to get people scheduled.

On her busiest day, the reception team supervisor at Group Health Cooperative’s Capitol Clinic took more than 100 calls. She just expects to get busier this week.

“(Call volume) increases every time a group becomes eligible,” Knott said, adding that the behind-the-scenes work has been a huge task. “It’s planning day to day on what schedules are going to be open, how far out are we going to schedule, how much vaccine are we going to get?”

Getting shots in arms is just the tip of the logistical iceberg, just like being eligible is only the start.

“I think what people will find is a lot of demand for vaccines yet, especially in Dane County,” UW Health’s Chief Quality Officer Dr. Jeff Pothof said.

Navigating online portals, waitlists

UW Health offers appointments when available on its website, and has a same-day call form for those interested in coming in when someone cancels, as well.

Wherever someone is looking to book an appointment, Pothof suggests using online portals when possible, though it’s likely people will find appointments aren’t available near them on their first try.

“Don’t be afraid to check back later,” Pothof said. “Lots of times things change over the course of a few days.”

When deciding where to get booked, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has a webpage mapping out the hundreds of vaccine options, including Walgreens pharmacies, Walmart pharmacies, CVS pharmacies, Hy-Vee stores and many more, with links to their websites for scheduling. Users can also sign up on the DHS website to get an appointment with county health departments such as Public Health Madison & Dane County.

SSM Health recently launched a new scheduling portal. Those who are 16 and 17 should call to schedule an appointment to make sure they get the Pfizer vaccine, which is the only vaccine approved for their age.

Pharmacies such as Hometown Pharmacies allow users to sign up on their waitlists.

At GHC, Knott said it’s helpful if patients fill out the online interest form before calling. GHC is currently taking appointments for people 18 and older and offers a same-day appointment interest form, as well.

“(The DHS website) might be a more efficient way to figure out who’s vaccinating around you, how far would you have to travel, and really make that ring around where you live and how far you’re willing to go,” Pothof said.

‘Do not try to do this alone’: A virtual helping hand

Bob Orech is willing to go the extra mile to offer a helping hand virtually.

“It is frustrating,” Orech said. “We made a lot of assumptions this would be easy, like, oh the shot’s here, let’s go. Yeah, it doesn’t turn out that way.”

He’s the creator of the Wisconsin Vaccine Hunters and Angels Facebook group — a sort of crowdsourcing for any and all vaccine information, alerting members when providers drop appointments and offering tips on booking. Users can turn Facebook notifications on when other members post so they get the information right away.

“It’s that one-stop shop,” Orech said.

It’s all for one, and one for all, with thousands of members ready to arm others with knowledge that might not be on a provider’s website.

“What shot they’re supposed to have, what does it look like from a line standpoint, do I have to wait a long time, is there accessibility for my grandma,” Orech said.

For those looking on Walgreens and Walmart’s websites, he recommends making an account ahead of time so that people aren’t slowed down when they find an appointment and go to book it.

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Members post information about pharmacies with waste lists people can get on to get end-of-day extra shots.

The group also provides links to other websites that can help, such as Vaccine Finder, a free service supported by the CDC and operated by epidemiologists and software developers at Boston Children’s Hospital. The site also lists which vaccine the provider likely has.

Since the Facebook group has blown up to nearly 12,000 members, Orech said he’s had conversations with DHS and Governor Tony Evers’ office. He’s also hearing from doctors and health care providers asking to help guide them and their patients.

If there’s one lesson to be learned from the pandemic, it’s how much we need each other, whether it’s a stranger over the internet or on the other end of a phone call.

“Do not try to do this on your own if you’re intimidated or frustrated,” Orech said. “It’s one of those things, if you continue to be persistent, you’ll get the shot.”

“I have had so many people crying on the phone and such a joyous conversation with them,” Knott said. “I would say just be patient. We will get you vaccinated.”