Vaccination Frustration: Jewish Pittsburgh Struggles to Discover Photographs

Simone Shapiro and her husband are hoping to spend Passover with their two grandchildren, but due to a delay in obtaining their COVID-19 vaccines, this may not be possible.

The men have been in Israel since making aliyah over two years ago. You will be returning to the States for vacation.

“We don’t know when they’ll be back home,” Shapiro said. “If we aren’t vaccinated, I don’t know how we’ll see them.”

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The history of the Shapiros is familiar to many in the Pittsburgh Jewish community: although the husband and wife are age-qualified for a vaccination, they were unable to get an appointment.

“I contacted my GP and a friend who is a doctor,” said Shapiro. “I registered on the UPMC website. I went to the Allegheny Health Network website and signed up. I signed up on the state website. Visited CVS, Rite Aid, Giant Eagle, and the Allegheny County website. ”

None of these attempts were successful.

Shapiro fearlessly tried to get the vaccine from McKeesport Family Health Center, Hilltop Pharmacy, Hometown Pharmacy, East Liberty Health Center, and “many, many, many other places.”

So far, their efforts have been answered with unanswered phones, unreturned messages, and long queues on the site to find that the number of available doses has already been exceeded.

Pennsylvania’s initial funding pool included residents of long-term care facilities and those working in the medical field. Starting January 19, the pool was expanded to include adults 65 years of age and older and people between the ages of 16 and 64 with a variety of high-risk diseases, including cancer, chronic kidney disease, sickle cell disease, type 2 diabetes and COPD, Down syndrome, and heart disease as well as immunocompromised people classified as obese or very obese, pregnant women and smokers.

As of Jan. 21, Pennsylvania was one of 17 states still in Phase 1A of vaccine adoption, according to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation. For many in the Pittsburgh Jewish community, the process of actually getting a shot has been hampered by limited vaccines, misunderstandings, and technological challenges.

Bryna Siegel Finer is in her forties but now qualifies for the vaccine because she is immunocompromised.

“The only reason I could get it was because I have a friend who was at home and basically could click on the computer for me because she had nothing else to do,” said Finer, who works at Swisshelm Park is alive. “I have a full-time job. I couldn’t be home all day clicking on an appointment. ”

Feiner believes that the ability to vaccinate depends on access and privilege.

“When you have the privilege of being home all day, click on the computer. if you are smart enough to figure out the system; If you have access to a car and can drop everything this day or the next, you can get the vaccine, ”she said. “If you don’t have all of these things, now you are not getting it.”

For some, having access to all of these things still doesn’t guarantee they’ll be vaccinated.

Joan Weiss Stein, 65, tried to help both her sister-in-law (79) and brother-in-law (82) register to get vaccinated when the state added her to the eligibility pool. She grabbed her computer and immediately went to a link on the Allegheny Health Network provided by a friend. “It was like a miracle,” said Stein. “We got along and we got all appointments. It was a Sunday and we had our first appointment the following Tuesday. They planned our next shot for three weeks later. Everything was wonderful. ”

The three even received an email confirmation of their appointments.

Elation soon turned into a disappointment when Stein opened another email from the healthcare provider explaining that the link she was using was accidentally sent and was only intended for AHN healthcare workers. Because of the mistake, their appointments were canceled.

“We went back to seat one,” she said.

Since then, Stein has gone to health.pa.gov every day.

“The first day I was there, there were 10,623 people in front of me,” she said. “I had to wait four hours and 23 minutes only to find out that there were no appointments available. I now go to the site no less than 10 times a day. ”

Long waiting times, canceled appointments, and limited capacity are not the only complaints on the registration websites.

Dana Hirsch Himmel belongs to the risk group because she suffered a heart attack a year and a half ago. She was confused and stunned by a website that should be easy to understand.

“I went to the state’s website and you get to this little map that has all of these points and no explanations,” she said. “As someone who’s worked in marketing, how did you get any kind of image with no key to what it means?”

Eventually, Himmel found out about a clinic in Monroeville where she and her in-laws could make appointments. However, they were later told that these appointments would have to be canceled as this clinic was only providing admissions for health care workers.

Heaven is frustrated because what should be a straightforward process has turned into a treasure hunt down to chance or influence.

“It’s becoming a game, so to speak, where it looks like who do you know?” She said. “People will post things on Facebook like,” Oh, I heard about this somewhere – private message to me if you want to know. “

Those who are frustrated with the system are blaming federal, state, and local health officials.

The mistakes originally made at the federal level have been exacerbated by Pennsylvania, Stein said.

“The state opened Pandora’s box without knowing what was in it,” she said. “It was completely irresponsible for the state to open the authority knowing that it has not yet completed vaccinating the people in 1A.”

What was missing in Pennsylvania was a plan, Shapiro said, and “then just stick to that plan.”

Maggi Barton, deputy press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, said in a written response to a Chronicle query that the department had “designed vaccination schedules to ensure that vaccinations are administered in an ethical, fair and efficient manner.”

Barton urged residents to be patient, pointing out that the amount of vaccine currently available is limited, but there will be more in the future.

According to Barton, as of Feb. 1, providers “delivered more than 1,008,025 vaccines across the state.”

These numbers pale in comparison to need. Currently 4 million Pennsylvanians are eligible to receive the vaccine, which means the state will need 8 million doses. To date, Barton said, Pennsylvania has received 1.5 million doses.

Barton recommended that residents continue to wear masks, wash their hands, maintain social distance, and download the COVID Alert PA app while they wait for the state to receive adequate supplies of vaccines.

A silver lining in the midst of confusion and frustration was the community working together to help each other find vaccination doses and share information.

One of the leaders in the Pittsburgh Jewish community who has sought help is Deborah Win-Horvitz. The president and executive director of the Jewish Association on Aging was planning a vaccination clinic for its health workers and residents when she discovered that many Holocaust survivors in Pittsburgh may still need vaccinations. She has reached the Pittsburgh Holocaust Center and is working with Jewish family and community services to identify the survivors who need the vaccine.

Survivors in need of the vaccination can contact Sharyn Rubin by Tuesday, February 2 at 4 p.m. at srubin@jaapgh.org to register.

While the hunt for the COVID-19 vaccine has caused fear and concern in many people, Lynn Rubenson may have come up with a simple solution.

“When it became known that anyone aged 65 and over could get the vaccine, I started what everyone else was doing and feverishly looked for somewhere to find an appointment,” she said. “Then I thought this was ridiculous. I hate to say it, but Pennsylvania was flawed in the way they ran their website and provided information. That’s why I decided to follow my best advice: wait a couple of weeks. I think then we’ll see how it opens up. What’s a month left? I have waited so long. ” PJC

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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