I’m a believer in blue light. I’ve spent years lecturing my insomniac patients, buzzed on prednisone, on the importance of good sleep hygiene. In my own home, I try to practice what I preach. When I’m ready for bed, I leave my laptop and phone on my nightstand, and concentrate on relaxing. If I can’t unwind, I might listen to an audiobook. Most recently, my soporific of choice has been A Promised Land, narrated by the author, Barack Obama. I just close my eyes and allow the soothing sounds of democracy to wash over me, until I am lulled to sleep.
That all changed on Jan. 12, 2021, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expanded coronavirus vaccine eligibility to everyone older than 65 years. Overnight, the pool of eligible Americans increased by 53 million, a group that included an elderly couple in Manhattan, who happen to be my parents.1
I hate to describe my parents as a stereotype, but my dad once called me urgently when I was seeing patients because he accidentally muted his computer while watching a Korean soap opera and couldn’t figure out how to turn the volume back on. There was no way my parents were going to figure out how to register for coronavirus vaccination.
Apparently, neither could I.
Trying to determine how to get my parents vaccinated became my newest hobby. Night after night, I dragged my laptop into bed with me. I started to spend the waning hours of each day hunting for the elusive website that would reveal all.
I had already invested considerable time in learning how Florida was allocating its supply of vaccine. Like many older New Yorkers, my parents are snowbirds, who often migrate to Florida for the winter. I thought it would be easy enough to justify vaccinating them in Florida, based on their semi-residency. Even if that were not the case, Gov. Ron DeSantis had already announced that residency was not a requirement to receive a coronavirus vaccine in Florida, as long as the age requirement was met.
Otherwise, it was up to each Florida county’s department of health to come up with its own system to distribute vaccines equitably. Lee County, for example, adopted a first-come, first-served policy, arguing this was most fair for patients who might have difficulty using a computer-based scheduling system.2 Predictably, this led to elderly and at-risk patients camping out at vaccination sites with lawn chairs and blankets, as if they were trying to get into one last Grateful Dead concert. Neighboring Collier County gave out appointments for vaccines using Eventbrite, the same program I used to buy a ticket to a community fundraiser a few years ago. Broward County allowed residents to make vaccination appointments by phone, but its switchboard was rapidly overwhelmed. No matter; all of its appointments were snapped up within hours.