5-hour wait for a coronavirus vaccine? Delaware residents say the line is the easy part

Drivers sit in traffic on the highway while waiting for COVID-19 vaccinations

Long lines for COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Delaware spilled onto the highway on Saturday. (Delaware Department of Health and Social Services)

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Mass coronavirus vaccine drive-in events for Delaware seniors got off to a rocky start this weekend with residents detailing long waits at the Delaware City and Georgetown DMV sites. But some say waiting was the easy part.

Starting Friday, the state aimed to inoculate 11,500 seniors through the weekend. It planned to vaccinate 2,000 health care workers during the Saturday and Sunday vaccination events as well, and the long waits drew sharp criticism.

One user took to Facebook to report a five-hour wait in Georgetown Saturday. Cars were so backed up that they started to bleed into Route 1, holding up traffic.

Another senior said her blood sugar dropped after several hours of waiting and employees were kind enough to bring her pineapple juice, a banana, and cookies. Another senior said she left seeing the lines that wrapped around and snaked onto the highway. One woman said it looked like “half the people” were just showing up without appointments, only to be turned away, while a couple of people complained about people cutting the line of cars.

By Sunday, things had improved.

“I think they were very well organized,” said 71-year-old Wilmington resident Lynn Fuller. “I think part of my good experience, we were anticipating a worse experience than we had, and it ended up being much better.”

Fuller was scheduled to get her vaccine at 11 a.m. on Sunday, and after hearing of the long waits, she packed snacks and headed to Delaware City early.

After an hour-and-a-half wait, she had her “COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card” in hand and a band-aid on her arm.

Saturday’s delays weren’t due to overscheduling, wrote the Department of Health and Social Services on Twitter.

“It was too many people showing up without their online registrations – medication history, allergies, chronic conditions – complete in the online system,” read a DHSS tweet.

Completing this information at the vaccination sites added five minutes to the process each time, per DHSS.

A Division of Public Health spokesperson said an email went out Sunday morning reminding people to finish filling out their pre-registration forms to reduce wait times. State troopers were also sent to both locations to assist in guiding traffic. The combination appeared to make a difference.

By 1 p.m. Sunday, DPH reported a much faster flow of people. The Georgetown location was experiencing an up to 20-minute wait, while the Delaware City location was seeing a one-hour wait for those with appointments.

‘I don’t know what their priorities are’

“The most frustrating part was getting the appointment,” said Fuller, speaking to what appeared to be the much larger complaint among seniors venting online.

Delaware is currently in its 1B phase of vaccine distribution. In this new stage, frontline essential workers are eligible to enter the queue, as are people ages 65 and older. That amounts to 200,00 people in the state. The weekend’s mass vaccination events were mainly for seniors in this category.

Frontline essential workers — including firefighters, police and correctional officers, teachers and education staff (including child care providers), U.S. postal workers, food manufacturing, agriculture, transportation, and grocery store workers — have to arrange their vaccination through their employers.

Seniors, meanwhile, can complete online registration for mass vaccine events. That site went live Wednesday morning.

As of Thursday, close to 91,000 residents had signed up.

In addition to vaccination events, seniors can get their shots at participating pharmacies or through a primary care provider — the state’s waitlist is separate from that of individual pharmacies and providers.

Delaware officials advise residents who have registered through the state website to take advantage of a vaccine appointment opening through their medical provider, employer, or pharmacy should one become available.

Fuller registered herself and her partner through Walgreens, a tedious process that required separate registrations from what she’d submitted to the state. The earliest available spots for Fuller and her partner were through a Walgreens this coming Thursday almost an hour away in Dover.

Fuller then got an email from the state telling her she’d secured a spot at the mass vaccination event Sunday. Her partner, however, received no such email. She said she registered him and herself on the same day.

“I signed us both up for that in two separate accounts — I had to set up an account for me and an account for him,” said Fuller. “I don’t know what their priorities are on those links.”

DPH has said those with ages and health conditions that put them at greater risk will be given priority.

“We are pleased that we will be able to focus on vaccinating thousands of our most vulnerable residents this weekend, and that we will be able to do so in an organized and efficient way,” said Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of DPH, on Wednesday. “For everyone else, we thank them for making requests and we are planning the ways to reach them in future weeks as more vaccine doses become available from the federal government.”

A spokesperson for DPH said more vaccination options would be released this week.

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