Martha Gallagher, a 75-year-old retired school nurse, wanted to volunteer for the Delaware Medical Reserve Corps to administer COVID-19 vaccines.
She knew Delaware might need more vaccinators and thought, “Why not do something to help get the vaccine out?” Plus, Gallagher figured, it would be a good way for her to get vaccinated, too.
When the Ocean View resident initially filled out the paperwork for the program, run through the Delaware Division of Public Health, she said she was told she could get a vaccine as a volunteer. But then, after she turned in her paperwork, a medical reserve program coordinator said that wasn’t the case.
Gallagher was surprised. “You want me at 75 to give vaccines, but I won’t be able to get a vaccine?” she said.
The Delaware Division of Public Health said in a statement the agency “cannot guarantee vaccine to volunteers based on available supply at each event. Many volunteers have been able to receive vaccines if there have been doses remaining at the end of an event in order to utilize every single dose to avoid waste.”
That was just one of many dead ends Gallagher encountered before she successfully got the coveted shot.
Gallagher launched her crusade on Jan. 20, when Delaware started vaccinating residents 65 and older and front-line essential workers.
She registered on the state’s website and got a reply that when an event opened, she would be sent a notice to make a vaccine appointment. Gallagher never got any notification from the state. A couple of weeks later, she registered again but heard nothing. She then called the state’s help line and was told the state had no vaccine doses and to check with commercial pharmacies.
The thing is, Gallagher had done that, too.
She had made multiple phone calls and tried to make online appointments with Rite Aid, Walgreens, Walmart and Giant grocery stores.
No matter what nearby Delaware ZIP code Gallagher entered into the online form, the pharmacy websites gave her the same rejection message. “The only response I would get is ‘There are no vaccines within 25 miles,’” she said.
“So, basically, it’s an utter mess, and I don’t know when they’re ever going to get this straightened out,” said Gallagher in a Feb. 11 phone call.
She had even gone the extra mile. Gallagher became friendly with one Walmart pharmacist in her area, and he said he put her name on a list and would call her if he got a dose he could give. But he said if he called, she would have to “come down right away.” Still, her phone never rang.
Gallagher’s four daughters also tried to help their mom get appointments.
In early February, Gallagher started stalking the Walgreens website every hour to check for appointments. Finally, she saw something available for March 9 at 11 a.m.
“But, then, when I clicked on it the whole bloody site disappeared,” said Gallagher. She couldn’t get back on the web page again. “It’s like peeling my face on a daily basis,” she exclaimed.
Finally, on Feb. 12, Gallagher reported to KHN that she had a change in luck.
“I got it!” she said in a phone call. “It’s kind of a long story.”
Back in January, when Gallagher’s age group became eligible for the vaccine, she thought she had made an appointment at a Rite Aid in another town. That appointment was scheduled for Feb. 11. But she never received verification or confirmation from the pharmacy.
Fed up with everything else she had tried, Gallagher decided when that day came to drive the 40 minutes to the Rite Aid. If she wasn’t booked, perhaps she could snag a shot because it had recently snowed and she thought maybe someone would have canceled an appointment.
“So, I went all that way, and then they said, ‘Well, if you didn’t get a reply, then your name isn’t on a list,’” said Gallagher. “And then I went on a long rant about what I had been through trying to get a vaccine.”
One pharmacy staffer told Gallagher she would go back and look at the appointment list. The staff member came back and said the inclement weather did indeed cause a cancellation, but Gallagher would have to wait about an hour before her turn.
After 23 nonstop days of searching, Gallagher said, yes, she could certainly wait one more hour.
Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.