Something is terribly wrong when we’re all forced to be vaccine hunters

There are more people who need shots than there are shots to give. That is not an excuse. We chose to make this a free-for-all.

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“I have been vaccine hunting since January, when I found a burst of Walgreens appointments and got half our school signed up,” writes elementary school principal Seth Lavin.

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On the Chicago Vaccine Hunters Facebook group you will read:

“Looking for a friend — over 65 — battling cancer for years.”

“My 88 year old mom has no internet or smart phone”

“Have been trying at midnight”

“Looking for weeks”

And:

“Set your computer to Barbados time and the Sycamore Hy-Vee shows new appointments at 10 pm central”

“For Jewel-Osco use an auto-fill so you go faster than someone typing”

And:

“Can anyone help?”

The group has 11,000 members.

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I am an elementary school principal. I have been vaccine hunting since January, when I found a burst of Walgreens appointments and got half our school signed up. It felt wonderful until a teacher told me what she saw at the pharmacy. While she waited, an older man approached the counter and asked the pharmacist if he could have the vaccine. He spoke in Spanish. The pharmacist told him you have to sign up online. The man walked away.

“This is wrong,” the teacher said. “This is all wrong.”

There are more people who need shots than there are shots to give. That is not an excuse for what is happening. We chose to make this a free-for-all, which means the people who get what everyone wants are the people with money and power. People in the hardest hit neighborhoods are clicking for their lives against people with more time and better internet.

It is beautiful that people are acting as vaccine angels and clicking online for the good of others. I am doing it. You should, too. But that is not a solution. This is not a good system. We need to change it.

We need to stop focusing on online sign-up at private pharmacies.

We need to make this work for our elders, who are most at risk and who deserve better.

We need to expand Protect Chicago Plus, which gives shots directly to people in hardest hit neighborhoods and uses closed registration to ensure shots go to those in the community.

And we need to start giving paid time off for vaccines so that people lucky enough to get appointments can actually use them. Right now there is no law in Illinois that says your job has to grant you time for a vaccine appointment.

Last week, I found a burst of appointments at Jewel and ran around my job signing up everyone I could find. I got spots for a security guard, the building engineer and two men who work as custodians. We laughed, bumped elbows, and then the custodians asked their boss if they could go. The boss said no.

The custodians are subcontractors with a different boss than the rest of us. I am vaccinated. The security guard is vaccinated. The building engineer is vaccinated. The custodians are not vaccinated.

The federal CARES Act gives us federal money to change this system if we have the political will to do it. We need to. Until then, we will be here clicking. I’m going to find those custodians new appointments. I hope they can use them.

Seth Lavin is the principal at a Chicago public elementary school.

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