President Joe Biden on Tuesday bumped up expectations by saying all adults will be eligible for a vaccine by April 19, after previously announcing 90% would qualify by that date and all by May 1.
“No more confusing rules, no more confusing restrictions,” Biden said. “Many states have already opened up to all of those, but beginning April 19th … every adult in this country is eligible to get to the line to get a COVID vaccination.”
Eligibility and availability are not the same, as Biden seemed to imply by emphasizing the words “get to the line.” With millions more people able to pursue those elusive shots, the picture of a free-for-all April 19 emerges, prompting one expert to compare the likely scenario to trying to score Elvis Presley tickets.
Harry Toy has a health condition that made him eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine before others his age, but he couldn’t land an appointment no matter what he tried. Getting on his computer at 6 a.m. and checking California’s My Turn web page or the CVS.com site proved fruitless.
So Toy, 62, sought the help of his sister. Her husband, whose magic touch at the keyboard had led to her getting vaccinated, was able to find an appointment for Toy just as California was opening eligibility for all people 50 and older last week.
“It’s really difficult. It’s just knowing to stay on the site, and just keep checking,” Elizabeth Angeles said as she and the newly inoculated Toy walked out of a mass vaccination center in San Francisco on Thursday. “And you have to be fast, because sometimes you enter all your information, and by the time you think you’re done, the appointment is gone. My husband got mad at me because he said my email address was too long.”
“Expanding to open eligibility will lead to that initial rush of eligible individuals who have been champing at the bit to get the vaccines, navigating the system, signing on the minute they’re eligible,” said Jason L. Schwartz, assistant professor of health policy at Yale University and a member of the Connecticut vaccine advisory committee.
“But the good thing is we’re now moving to such a significant vaccine-supply situation that, that period is going to be very short-lived. Very quickly, really in a matter of weeks after each state moves to open eligibility, we’re going to shift to a very different phase in the vaccine rollout where we will have plenty of doses available.”
Biden has pledged 200 million doses administered in his first 100 days in office – twice the number he initially promised – and enough availability for all who qualify (most children don’t) by the end of May as his administration strives to get the country closer to normalcy by the July Fourth holiday.
But in comparing the expected mad dash for vaccine appointments April 19 to a past generation scrambling for tickets to an Elvis show, Wachter acknowledged there are still inefficiencies in the vaccination program. When April 19 arrives, he predicts some people will try to game the system and get doses earmarked for those in disadvantaged communities, and others will drive to far-flung locales in search of a shot.
“It’s going to be far more efficient to deliver vaccine doses once immunizers can vaccinate anyone who comes along without screening for priority group,” she said. “Prioritization was always meant to be limited to a brief time when vaccine supplies were scarce. While these efforts can help get early vaccine doses to those who need it most, it also slows down the process of vaccinating the population. Now that supply is not scarce, we need to open up and vaccinate at full throttle everywhere.”