SAN JOSE, Calif. — At 91, Bob Stannard still lives on his own in his Gilroy ranch and reads the newspaper religiously from his living room sofa chair every morning, but his body doesn’t work quite the way it used to.
Stannard has stage 4 prostate cancer. He’s also diabetic, relies on a catheter and uses a walker to get himself short distances around the house. Between several traumatic falls in the past two years and his slew of medical conditions, Stannard — a member of Kaiser Permanente the past five decades — visits the hospital and his doctors more than most.
Yet while thousands of people across the state who are younger than Stannard managed to secure a COVID-19 vaccination appointment in the past week, Stannard’s family is striking out.
“Amazingly enough, Kaiser has all of this information, and we still can’t get a response from anyone,” said Stannard’s son-in-law Dan Morgan. “The selection process reminds me of a Bingo game. I just don’t understand how they come up with this.”
When Gov. Gavin Newsom announced earlier this month that the state would allow vaccinations for those 65 and older, Kaiser followed suit. But opening the floodgates from health care workers to hundreds of thousands of other people proved chaotic. Phone lines jammed and online appointment systems quickly overloaded with requests for appointments.
Last week — just days after opening up appointments for those 65 and older — Kaiser announced it was now limiting vaccinations to people 75 and older. Today, though, even those who qualify under the new parameters can no longer call, email or use the health care provider’s online system to make an appointment. Kaiser in essence has told them don’t call us, we’ll call you.
Kaiser isn’t alone. County health departments and health care providers across the state all say the long-awaited vaccine rollout has been hampered by a low and inconsistent supply of doses.
As a result, despite caring for 1.5 million members age 65 and older, Kaiser said last week it received only 20,000 doses for that age group.
Dorothy Wickenhiser, 71, of Livermore, was one of the lucky ones.
She waited eight hours on Kaiser’s phone line last week before finally hearing the voice of a receptionist on the other end — at 2 a.m.
After living in fear since last March that she and her husband — who died this summer from lung disease — could contract the virus, Wickenhiser said she jumped at the chance to get a vaccine as soon as she heard she was eligible.
Wickenhiser said she was unaware of the changes Kaiser has made since then and felt “extremely fortunate” to have an appointment scheduled in a week.
“They said they were worried about people not wanting to get the shot, but I can tell you that I don’t know one person in my age group not chomping at the bit,” she said. “… I’m just keeping my fingers crossed now that they’re not going to call and cancel.”
In a statement to this news organization, Kaiser said it’s “following state guidelines and prioritizing those patients who are at an increased risk of mortality or other severe diseases, as well as those who reside in vulnerable communities.”
But family members of some of California’s oldest residents who are the most vulnerable to succumbing to COVID-19 say they aren’t seeing that policy at work.
Mark Rakich’s 90-year-old mother, Carol, took a bad fall inside her Los Gatos home two weeks ago and broke her shoulder. The doctors recommended that she spend her 6- to 8-week recovery in a skilled nursing home, but because of COVID-19 outbreaks at nursing homes across the country, Mark Rakich and his family decided to bring her home instead and watch after her themselves.
Carol Rakich’s family is now looking to get an at-home care provider to assist her, but the risk of bringing in another person who could potentially transmit the disease is weighing heavily on them.
Like Stannard’s family, the Rakiches have tried everything to get Carol a vaccine appointment — from emails to her doctors offering to bring her to any facility in the Bay Area to calls into supervisors at Kaiser’s member services department — without any luck.
“I don’t know what to make of it,” Mark Rakich said. “This is a unique patient with unique circumstances.”
Rakich, whose close 65-year-old friend recently received his first vaccine dose, called it “shocking” that there was no avenue for them to take to get someone as high-risk as his mother inoculated before other less-critical patients.
“I’m not asking to jump to the front of the line. I’m asking that a 90-year-old woman with diabetes, kidney and heart issues, who needs assistance to go to the bathroom, gets put on the list ahead of a healthy 65-year-old,” he said.
As for Stannard, he can’t wait to go to the nursery again to build out his garden, resume Tuesday night family dinners, finish reading “Alone in the Wilderness” and maybe even enjoy a traditional holiday celebration with the whole family.
“I can’t wait to get it,” Stannard said about the vaccine. “I’m all in favor of living through this.”