SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Trying to snag a coveted COVID-19 vaccination can be frustrating and, at times, feel just plain impossible. Add to that the confusion of registering for an appointment that varies from state to state, county to county. But NPR has launched a new tool to try to help you register based on where you live. We have NPR health reporter Pien Huang here to tell us more about it.
Pien, thanks for being with us.
PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Scott.
SIMON: And let me begin by asking about the winter weather across much of the country here. What kind of serious delays have they caused?
HUANG: Yeah, well, a lot of vaccine appointments were canceled this week because there were sites without electricity or bad road conditions that made it hard for people to get to those appointments. And there are also delays with supply. The White House says there were 6 million doses that were supposed to go out earlier this week but didn't. Andy Slavitt, the White House COVID response coordinator, said that most of those doses are in freezer storage right now, ready to ship when the weather clears.
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ANDY SLAVITT: We know many Americans are awaiting their second dose, and many more, their first dose. If we all work together, from the factory all the way to the vaccinators, we will make up for it in the coming weeks.
HUANG: So the weather has definitely put a huge crimp in the momentum. But the White House is pushing for a quick recovery, and they're telling states to get ready for a surge in vaccines, which they say is coming.
SIMON: Tell us about the online tool developed by NPR.
HUANG: Yeah. So one of the big problems that we've heard is that the process for signing up for a vaccine is totally patchwork, you know? In states like New Mexico and West Virginia, there's one single state registry for booking appointments, and some other states just give you a map of vaccine providers and say, good luck, go book one directly. So here at NPR, we put a dozen researchers on it. We looked up how to sign up in every state, and we built an online tool that walks you through the steps for how to get an appointment where you live.
SIMON: Well, so what do you do? Go to the site, and just type in your state or commonwealth or district?
HUANG: Well, basically, when you get to the website, you choose your state, and in some cases your city, from a drop-down menu. And then you'll find that we've created a blueprint which walks you through reliable sources that will help you figure out the process in your state. And we've basically broken it down into four questions. You know, the first one is, is it your turn to get a vaccine? You know, different states have different priority groups. So we've figured out for you where you can find the phase of distribution in your state.
If you are eligible, the next question is - you know, is there a government registry where you can sign up to get one? Some state and local health departments are keeping lists. And if you register, they'll tell you when it's your turn. Next, if you can't get a vaccine appointment through your local registry, is there a private provider nearby, like a pharmacy or a hospital, where you can sign up directly? Vaccines are being sent to chain pharmacies, so you might be able to book directly with your local CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid. And if you have more questions, which a lot of people inevitably will, we've pulled together the hotlines and the FAQs in each state that can help you answer those questions.
SIMON: All of which sounds very useful, Pien. Any additional advice we should have?
HUANG: Yeah, well, the fact is that supply is really limited right now. So the trick is to be persistent and, especially if you're not yet eligible, to be patient. You know, if a hotline is jammed when you call, try again. If the appointment site crashes, like it did in Massachusetts earlier this week, try later. And look to your local news outlets or neighborhood groups for tips on where people are getting appointments and when they drop. And also, remember that it is not impossible. You know, more than 40 million people have gotten vaccinated already, and more vaccines are going out every week.
SIMON: NPR health reporter Pien Huang, thanks so much for being with us.
HUANG: Thank you, Scott.
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