This Puerto Rican grandmother’s ordeal to get the COVID vaccine began in December, leaving her frustrated and “emotionally drained.”
Since the COVID-19 vaccine became available in the US, millions of Americans over the age of 65 have qualified to be inoculated. However, the process of signing up and finally getting that shot in the arm has been for many, if not all, an ordeal plagued with dead ends, wrong turns, and a growing sense of frustration.
Although it’s been amply reported in the media, nothing brings this home like hearing it from someone who has experienced it firsthand.
Arcadia López is a 73-year-old Puerto Rican wife, mother, and grandmother from Polk County, Florida, a mix of suburban and small towns, with large swaths of rural areas, sandwiched between Orlando and Tampa.
What López calls her “ordeal” began in December of last year, when she and her husband, Carlos Díaz, 74, went to their doctor with questions about the COVID-19 vaccine.
Getting No Answers
“Our doctor said, ‘We haven’t been told anything about the vaccine.’ So we went directly to the hospital and there they told us to call the Florida Department of Health,” recalled López. “So we called, but they didn’t even pick up the phone.”
As the days went by, the lack of answers and the sense of futility fueled López’s growing concerns.
“I became so anxious that the doctor had to prescribe anti-anxiety medication,” she said.
In January, the couple began looking for sites offering the vaccine. They registered in three, but their hopes were dashed when nothing came of it. López also began to get up early in the morning to try to connect with a participating pharmacy or grocery store to sign up for the shot. Invariably, she was kept waiting.
“And waiting and waiting and waiting. I’d be holding like that for almost two hours, and then I’d be automatically taken out of that page,” she said.
Finally, the couple went to a site in Winter Haven, where they had been registered since Feb. 1, and were told to wait, because at that time they were vaccinating the people who had registered in January.
“I was so frustrated!” López said. And she was not alone.
Adding to the Frustration
After the state set up invitation-only COVID-19 vaccination clinics in at least two upscale communities, Gov. Ron DeSantis began facing calls for a federal investigation.
The exclusive vaccine clinics allowed about 6,000 people to jump ahead of tens of thousands of seniors on waitlists in Charlotte and Manatee counties, prompting Commissioner Misty Servia to say, “We ask why there is a racism problem perceived in Manatee County? This adds to that argument. You’re taking the whitest and richest demographic in Manatee County and putting them ahead of everyone else.”
News of this only added to López’s frustration.
“I’d seen the news about a really affluent place of white people where [it happened]. And another area as well, where the houses are worth up to a million dollars,” López said. “We went to one of the sites where we had signed up for the vaccine to ask [for an update in our status] and we were the only Latinos in the line.”
The endless search for answers, the dead ends, and wrong turns, coupled with the fact that she hasn’t seen family members for over a year, took their toll.
“I [was] feeling very down, on top of the fact that with this Covid situation we’re always home. It’s very difficult to see my grandchildren that I love so much… Only God knows how I felt,” said López, who throughout her odyssey found herself unable to sleep and “emotionally drained.”
Finally, on Feb. 26, López received her shot for the COVID-19 vaccine at a local Walmart store. Her husband is still waiting to book an appointment.
“I will keep wearing two masks, like Dr. Fauci recommends, and keeping the social distance,” she said. “But I feel more secure. I only hope that very soon everyone in Florida will be vaccinated.”