‘I don’t have a computer’: Seniors share hardships competing for online vaccine spots

VIDEO: Thousands of seniors in competition to signup online for vaccine

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — The seemingly endless flow of cars to distribute 2,500 doses of COVID-19 vaccine at the mass vaccination drive-up event at Washington State Fairgrounds is being handled by Pierce County with remarkable efficiency.

“We’re giving about 284 vaccines per hour over 11 lanes, so we’re moving pretty quickly,” said Mike Halliday with Pierce County Emergency Management. “Even with several stages here, we’re able to get people through this whole process in a few minutes.”

But the intense competition to get a single vaccine appointment online requires computer skills a lot of the seniors at the event said they don’t have.

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“I don’t have a computer,” said 86-year-old Joan Backstrom, who had just received her dose. “I’m so old that I don’t really use one,” she said. Backstrom and many other seniors at the vaccination event told KIRO 7 they recruited relatives and friends to help them.

“If you don’t have family, and you don’t have any children or grandchildren, you have to rely on your neighbors,” she said. “Or your relatives, and I don’t have that many.”

On Thursday morning, 3,500 available vaccine appointments were all taken within 19 minutes on the Pierce County website. At the 20-minute mark, all registrations were closed. The spots were reserved at a rate of 186 per minute.

“It’s been really hard for people to get in,” said 86-year-old Marlin Croghan, who was also able to grab a spot, thanks to help from family. “My kids all have computers, and they haven’t had good luck at all,” she said.

“That’s a challenge, said I’ve got a friend that’s having trouble getting on,” said Terry Huber. “I’m actually going to go to his house and help him when it comes time again for the next opening.”

Pierce County and state officials are hearing the same request from seniors:

“I wish we could use the phones,” said Backstrom.

The Tacoma - Pierce County Health Department told KIRO 7 a phone bank is coming, but until it’s an option, it’s asking seniors to get help from people working with multiple devices.