To get her coronavirus vaccination last weekend, 90-year-old Frances H. Goldman reached an exceptional length: six miles. On foot.
It was too snowy to drive at 8 a.m. on Sunday when Ms. Goldman took out her walking sticks, dusted her snowshoes, and set off from her home in Seattle’s View Ridge neighborhood. She made her way to the Burke-Gilman Trail on the outskirts of town, where she meandered south along a series of old railroad tracks. Then she crossed the residential streets of Laurelhurst to reach Seattle Children’s Hospital.
It was a quiet walk, said Mrs. Goldman. People were short. Through the falling snow, she caught a glimpse of Lake Washington. It would have been more difficult, she said, had she not had a bad hip replaced last year.
In the hospital, about three miles and an hour from home, she received the shock. Then she bundled herself up again and went back the way she had come.
It was an extraordinary effort – but it wasn’t the extent. Ms. Goldman, who was eligible for a vaccine last month, had already tried everything to secure an appointment. She had made repeated calls and visited the websites of local pharmacies, hospitals and government health departments without success. She hired a daughter in New York and a friend in Arizona to find an appointment.
Finally, a visit to the Seattle Children’s Hospital website on Friday yielded results.
“Lo and behold, a whole list of times has surfaced,” she said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “I couldn’t believe my eyes. I got my glasses to make sure I saw them properly. “
Then came the snow that would eventually fall more than 10 inches on one of the snowiest Seattle weekends ever recorded. Mrs. Goldman was cautious about driving on hilly, unploughed roads and decided to walk to the hospital. On Saturday, she took a test walk to get a feel for how long the trip might be.
And on Sunday she went all the way to the hospital to get her vaccine. The Seattle Times reported on her walk on Monday.
The appointment went smoothly, she said. This was particularly significant to Ms. Goldman, as she remembered the joy of national celebrations in 1955 when another important vaccine was developed.
“I can remember when the polio vaccine was introduced,” said Ms. Goldman. At the time, she was a young mother and polio affected tens of thousands of children, sometimes resulting in paralysis or death. She recalls taking her children to get the vaccine at a school in Cincinnati where she lived.
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This vaccine rollout “was done in a very organized way and made a huge difference in the way people can live in the summer – not only did people not get sick, but they didn’t have to live with the threat of getting sick . “
This time Ms. Goldman was disappointed with the vaccine distribution. “There’s no excuse for doing it the way it was,” she said. “It was disorganized. Completely disorganized. “
Seattle is just one of many places in the United States where residents have struggled to get access to the vaccine.
“There just aren’t enough vaccines across the state and nation,” said Sharon Bogan, a spokeswoman for the Seattle and King Counties Department of Health. “Even under the best of circumstances, we knew this would take time. We know eligible residents like Ms. Goldman have trouble accessing appointments due to limited availability of the vaccine. “
And while similar stories have played out across the country, vaccine distribution in the United States is slowly improving. President Biden said this week that any American who wanted a Covid-19 vaccination should get a vaccination by the end of July, but also warned that the logistics of distribution would continue to cause difficulties.
In King County, health officials grappling with limited supplies have worked to ensure the vaccine is delivered fairly, according to Ms. Bogan. “We are focusing our efforts on those eligible high-risk individuals who are not affiliated with a doctor or the healthcare system and are setting up locations to reach older adults in communities disproportionately affected by Covid-19,” she said.
Ms. Goldman is expected to receive her second dose of vaccine next month. She plans to go.
And when it’s all over, she hopes to take people back into her home, resume volunteering at a nearby arboretum, and hold onto her new great-grandchild, whom she hasn’t touched at all.
She is on the phone a lot at the moment – her long journey has been covered by numerous local and national news agencies. The attention, she said, has not bothered her so far.
“I hope it will inspire people to get their shots,” she said. “I think it’s important for the whole country.”
Sheelagh McNeill contributed to the research.