You're Eligible for the Vaccine, But Can You Get One?

Users say county vaccine appointment system "is a mess"

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John Miller, a sailing and safety instructor in Oceanside is just one of many viewers who reached out to NBC7 in the last two days with the same complaint: They couldn't get an appointment to get a vaccine on the county's website or over the phone.

"We have known this vaccine is coming for a year,” Miller said, "and the lack of preparation is unacceptable. Unacceptable."

Right now, California is the fifth-slowest state in the nation at giving out the vaccine. It received nearly 5 million doses but has only doled out 2.4 million. Meaning that more than half of the vaccines in the state of California are sitting unused.

Miller jokes that folks have a better chance of winning the lottery than getting an appointment for a vaccine in San Diego County. With roughly half of the state's vaccine supply still unused, Miller has joined a growing number of people -- and experts -- asking: Why?

When the county opened up vaccines to people 65 years and older, Miller ran to a computer, only to find what would become an all-too-familiar message: No appointments available.

Miller kept seeing that message for hours, then for days, each time refreshing his screen. Despite checking individual vaccination sites, the end result was always the same.

Miller says 211 was no help either, so he tried the CA COVID-19 Hotline (1-833-422-4255) listed on the My Turn landing page San Diego County uses to book appointments at county community locations. When Miller tried that hotline on Tuesday morning, NBC 7's camera recorded a message directed at Los Angeles users, not San Diegans.

Miller said this actually happened to him a lot. He would wait an hour on hold, and when he finally reached a human being, they would be based out of LA or Orange County.

"They said we can’t help you and would hang up,” Miller said. “That was extremely frustrating."

My Turn, a state contractor web-based scheduler being used to book vaccine appointments, is currently being used in LA and San Diego as a pilot program for the state.

Miller ultimately succeeded via Rady's Children Hospital San Diego, landing an appointment for his first dose on Wednesday. He said he spent more than 40 hours over the course of one week in order to get the appointment.

"It is a crying shame,” Miller said.

“It’s extremely frustrating to keep hearing on the news, ‘We’re opening all these up; oh, Petco has all these appointments now because people aren’t showing up,' and you can’t go without an appointment,’” Jeanine Bourcier said. “And you go on the website and it says you can’t get an appointment.”

Bourcier also reached out to NBC 7, saying she still hasn't been able to help her mother, who is over 65, get an appointment.

“It’s just 'None available,' 'None available,' 'None available' at all the sites,” Bourcier said. “I was on there for hours on Sunday. I just kept refreshing and going back, and never got an appointment available.”

As a healthcare worker, Bourcier already got her first shot, but now she worries that she won't be able to make an appointment for her second dose.

“It just seems like there was no plan,” Bourcier said. “There was no forethought like, ‘Let’s just get shots in arms and we’ll worry about it later.’ Well, now it’s later, and it’s a mess.”

A county spokesman sent NBC 7 Investigates an e-mail saying in part, that there are "some issues being worked out by the [My Turn] contractor."

“That’s just inexcusable,” said Ralph Catalano, a professor of public health at UC Berkeley.

Catalano said California should be embarrassed by the rollout.

Catalano wondered why, in the state that's home to the tech revolution, there isn't a centralized technology system tracking the vaccine distribution. Part of the problem, he said, is there likely wasn't anyone in charge of the vaccine rollout at the state level.

“The public health profession will have to answer very important questions,” Catalano said. “Why is it that we weren’t ready to do that? We had eight months to prepare and we didn’t.”

Catalano’s questions echo ones being asked in San Diego

“Why hasn’t there been a consistent approach?" Catalano said. "Why do we have all of this vaccine sitting around and not being used? It just doesn’t seem like we have the leadership in our county or the state to step forward."

NBC 7 Investigates also asked the county who was in charge of planning the vaccine rollout locally and what that planning process entailed. We also asked what folks can do if they have trouble booking an appointment online or using the hotline.

The county spokesman did not respond to any of those questions.

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