At Hillcrest High School in Queens on Wednesday, a vaccination hub run by the city, a handful of people who had signed up via the state’s website were told by health department staff that they were in the wrong place and would have to go to a community health center located in a former firehouse about a half mile away.
Struggling with their phones, a few people failed to produce their appointment identification numbers for health workers, or a corresponding QR code that would confirm their appointments. Staff in blue vests helped sort out the confusion, and in some cases, scheduled appointments for people who thought they had already scheduled them.
“Some people don’t even have computers,” said Hilary Umans, who had brought her mother, Priscilla, for her vaccine. “What if you don’t have a smartphone? And what if you’re not a native English speaker?”
Dave Chokshi, the city’s health commissioner, said at a City Council oversight hearing on Tuesday that to some extent, the separate sign-up systems cannot be helped: Each major player in the effort has separate medical records systems that vaccination schedules must link to. Each participating urgent care also has its own scheduling system, as do Costco, Rite Aid and dozens of other providers.
The city is trying to streamline the sign-up system to make it simpler, he said. But it has not yet announced how it will tackle the other huge challenges of how to get frail adults without transportation safely to vaccine appointments, and how to reach the city’s tens of thousands of homebound older New Yorkers.
“We have to ensure that the experience, particularly for our elders, including frail elders, is as easy as possible,” Dr. Chokshi said.
For now, many older adults are getting help from friends and relatives, but even that is no guarantee of success. In Riverdale, in the Bronx, Annette Gaudino, who works as policy director for a health advocacy organization, has been trying to register her 95-year-old mother for two days, checking multiple locations. She is not sure if she will be allowed to accompany her to the appointment.