Joao Silva / The New York Times

Health workers deliver vaccines to senior citizens, moving through New York's next wave of people eligible for the vaccine.

February 25, 2021

Senior Ithacans Struggle Through Fraught Sign-Ups for Post-Vaccine Relief

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As vaccine time slots rapidly disappear, newly eligible Tompkins County seniors are rushing to sign up for appointments, plagued by the long lines and technological difficulties that mirror the state’s vaccine distribution rollout.

While Tompkins County showed promising efficiency in its early stages of vaccine distribution, efforts have been further hampered by vaccine delivery delays due to severe weather.

Initially prioritizing those over 75 for vaccine distribution, new federal guidelines announced Jan. 12 expanded eligibility to individuals 65 and over, resulting in an increased demand for the already-scarce vaccine doses.

Caroline Cox, an Ithaca resident who lives in Fall Creek, was able to get her vaccine on Jan. 11, before the eligibility list broadened.

“I think our experience is probably different from the majority of people,” Cox said about receiving the vaccine with her husband. “We were so fortunate. My joke is I should have bought … a lotto card. We were just lucky, that’s all it was.”

Leni Hochman, whose 99 year-old mother lives in a family-type home for adults with other senior citizens, was less fortunate with scheduling. She expressed anxiety over the new guidelines that expanded the eligibility pool, as it meant more people would be competing for these elusive shots.

“When I heard that they were opening up the eligibility to people 65 and over, I really started panicking,” Hochman said. “She’s 99, she’s living in a home with eight, and I was very, very worried for her catching the virus.”

According to Hochman, the search didn’t become any easier as availability narrowed and she had to rely on her friends’ help to widen her search.

Technical difficulties and crashing websites impeded Hochman’s ability to schedule a vaccination for her mother –– even when she was finally able to access the registration site, an appointment wasn’t available. 

Frank Horowitz ’89 has been helping seniors sign up for appointments with a team of around eight other members. He said that Hochman’s experience with appointments isn’t uncommon.

“[The New York State] website is horrendous,” Horowitz said. He explained that navigating it can be even more difficult for elders with limited computer experience.

Alice Moore, a local real estate agent who wasn’t able to get a vaccine appointment until Jan. 21., described the experience as a “part-time job.”

“At one point we called to make an appointment, and they wanted this information,” Moore said. “By the time I made the calls and got the information, the appointments had been filled.” 

While applicants found the search process arduous, the vaccination process at the pharmacy went smoothly. According to Cox, vaccinators at the Ithaca Mall were efficient and kept the process short, totaling 45 to 60 minutes.

After receiving the vaccine, senior Ithacans described feeling a great sense of relief after grappling with the personal toll of the pandemic for the past year.

“I woke up and I realized the rigidity in my neck and my back had eased enormously,” Cox said. “This worry has been starting to be lifted.”

Clarification, Feb. 25, 12:23 p.m.: A previous version of this article stated patients waited 15 to 30 minutes, this figure refers to the standard time patients wait after the vaccine based on their reaction to the shot. The article now reflects the total time it took patients to wait in line and be vaccinated.