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Monday, October 18, 2021

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News + PoliticsCOVIDNo cell phone? No vaccine.

No cell phone? No vaccine.

Seniors who aren't tech-savvy and don't have cell phones are completely left out of the vaccination process in SF.


I got a telephone call from a friend on Thursday who told me that the Moscone Center vaccination site had appointments available, and that I should go online right away and book an appointment.

I am 71 years old. Although I have been a member of Kaiser since 1976, Kaiser has repeatedly told us that appointments are not available for anyone younger than 75, unless they are a long-term care patient or staff member, or a healthcare worker.

Sure, you can get an appointment — but only online and only if you have a cell phone. Some seniors are left out.

According to the City of San Francisco’s website, “Frontline healthcare workers and people 65 and over are eligible to book an appointment” at the Moscone site. So I took my friend’s advice and tried to book an appointment.

There were appointments available, but not for me – for the sole reason that I do not have a cell phone.

I picked an appointment time, then went through the process of answering the questions that the website asked. When it asked for my cell phone number, I tried to answer “none,” but the website would not accept that answer. So I filled in (555) 555-5555 like the example on the website.

But when I got to the end of the process, the website told me that a “security code” had been texted to my cell phone, and that I needed to retrieve that code and enter it. Since I could not do that, the website refused to allow me to book the appointment I had been offered.

At first, I figured there must be a way around this problem. I will spare the reader the multiple calls I made to the San Francisco Public Health Department, the California Department of Public Health, and Kaiser. They all told the same story. Appointment bookings for Moscone Center are only available through a piece of software ironically called “My Turn,” and that is supposedly where the problem lies.

Not my turn

The “My Turn” software requires the user to enter a code that is texted to the user’s cell phone. There is no other method allowed to complete a booking. None of the people I talked to could give me the code. They couldn’t get it emailed to me. They couldn’t book an appointment for me. Although they never said it this way, they basically told me to go pound dirt. It was decidedly not “My Turn.”

Once upon a time, ten years back or so, I had one of those now-ancient flip-phones, because I needed it to round up people for the picket lines I was in charge of at Hotel Frank, now called Hotel G, but that’s another story. I dumped that flip phone in the aftermath of that campaign, because I was sick of people expecting me to answer the phone every minute of every day, and did not want to pay the piper to carry around a little GPS spy and radiation device – but that’s another story also.

To say that I was outraged at being denied the vaccine because I do not have a cell phone would be to put it way too politely. After all, COVID can be a death sentence for a person of my tender years, and I did not and still do not see how having a cell phone would make my life more worthy than it already (I hope) is.

I was told by one of the many people I talked to that they had received multiple complaints from other seniors about the same exact problem. It certainly doesn’t take a genius to know that many elders do not have or use cell phones. So, this is not a personal problem of my own, but a problem for a whole class of people, whose lives might be even more worthy than mine.

I also got to thinking about the fact that the only way to book an appointment at Moscone is online. Again, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that many elders do not have access to a computer, or may be unable to use one if they do. These folks can’t even get as far along the process as I did. In fact, they might even have trouble trying to figure out who to call to complain.

The media has reported that Kaiser, my medical provider, is somehow in charge at Moscone. The city folks I talked to claim they run the place. The Kaiser people I talked to said that they “help run the operations.” No matter. Any way you cut it, my medical provider Kaiser — which on Thursday wouldn’t give me an appointment for a vaccine shot at Kaiser — was facilitating vaccine shots for non-Kaiser elders of my same age at Moscone. I don’t resent any of those elders getting vaccinated, but Kaiser’s double-standard is, shall we say, irritating.

According to the most up-to-date (online) numbers as I write this article, eight deaths were added to the toll of COVID-19 casualties in San Francisco last Tuesday, 546 people died in California on Thursday, and 3,589 died in the US on Friday. How many of these people were elders supposedly “eligible” for a shot, but unable to get one because of limited access to a computer or a cell phone?

And, to once again state the obvious, how much would the reader bet that a disproportionate number of these elders are Black or Brown, female, LGBT, and/or of less-than-average income?

Technological inequities

At one point I got an email from the SF Department of Public Health stating that the “City and County of San Francisco recognizes the technological inequities of the My Turn system.” They would have to be dolts not to, but it’s revealing that they admit it.

But responsibility for these “technological inequities” is not something to which City or San Francisco Department of Public Health officials are willing to admit. Instead this same email claims that “Kaiser chose to use the platform [“My Turn”] and the City and County of San Francisco has no input or control over the use of that registration system.”

The word for that finger-pointing excuse starts with B, has eight letters, and ends with T. Moscone Center is a city-run facility, and the city decides who uses it, when they use it, and for what. Apparently, our city officials didn’t bother to set any conditions about how appointments would be made, despite the known “technological inequities” of the “My Turn” software.

Nor has the city, the SF Department of Public Health, the California Public Health Department or Kaiser made any moves toward doing the obvious thing – setting up a telephone system for making appointments. All these players seem locked into the Silicon Valley way of doing things, and have forgotten the old fashioned device that ruled the world for the vast majority of my life. Perhaps they should watch some 20th-century movies to see how it was done.

The most ridiculous solution that was proposed to me was that I should buy a relatively cheap burner-style flip phone. It was explained to me in this same conversation that the “My Turn” software relied on cell phones to confirm my identity as a worthy person for a vaccination. When I pointed out that the burner phones I was being directed to buy are routinely used by drug dealers and other assorted criminals precisely to hide their identity, I got a nervous laugh followed by silence.

Hah. Hah.

A happy ending?

By Friday night, I was pretty pooped out from making multiple telephone calls and handling multiple emails. It didn’t even seem to have helped that I kept telling the powers-that-be that I am a freelance journalist and that I intend to write about this fiasco, which the reader can see was no idle threat.

Then, Friday night, out of the blue, I got a telephone call from my Kaiser doctor. She told me that I should show up at Moscone on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. That’s today, as I write this. I am instructed to go to the “help desk” and ask to be put on the “waiting list.” It seems that a special accommodation has been made for me. I guess it is true that the (very) squeaky wheel sometimes gets the oil. I will see if I actually get a vaccination today.

But, as I told my doctor, and the Kaiser public relations guy that emailed me to make sure I had heard from my doctor, that getting me an appointment does not solve the problem, not by a long shot – as it leaves untold numbers of other elders out in the cold. In fact, getting me an appointment reeks of an attempt to buy me off and keep me from making any further noise about the discriminatory actions of Kaiser, the SF Department of Public Health, and the California Public Health Department.

So maybe I will get a vaccine shot today. But at the same time many elders are sitting at home, if they have a home, trying to figure out how to stay alive during one of the most serious public health crises of their lives.

Marc Norton works, when work is available, in the culinary, restaurant and hotel industry, and moonlights as a free-lance journalist. 48 Hills published an article of his earlier this month about the failure of the California Department of Public Health to abide by the COVID-19 reporting mandates of AB685, and of the failure of the SF Public Health Department to report on workplace COVID-19 infections as many other counties and states are doing. Marc Norton’s website is at www.MarcNortonOnline.wordpress.com.

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  1. [UPDATE — Tuesday, February 16, 2021]
    My Sunday update has been obscured by all the comments since it was posted, so here it is again, with a couple of additional notes.

    I was able to get a first vaccination shot on Saturday — just under the wire, as the City announced on Sunday (Valentine’s Day) that the Moscone site “will pause for one week” because “the vaccine supply… is limited, inconsistent, and unpredictable…” The San Francisco Chronicle also ran an article on Sunday about Kaiser complaining that it hasn’t been allocated enough doses.

    Perhaps the SF Department of Public Health can take advantage of this “pause” to get its appointment system fixed so that people without access to computers and cell phones can get vaccinated when the Moscone site reopens. After posting this article, I heard from several folks without cell phones, which just confirms what any thinking person should know — that not everybody has a cell phone.

    “48now” posted a comment immediately below claiming that they emailed them the “security code.” I did not receive any such email, but if “48now” is correct, a person who enters a fake cell phone number might get emailed the security code under some circumstances and then be able to complete the booking process. This might be worth trying when appointments are available.

    I forwarded a copy of this article to the folks at the SF Department of Public Health. They have not responded.

  2. Way back on 2/7, I signed up for a vaccination appointment at Moscone, via My Turn.

    When I signed up, I mistyped my cell phone number. How do I know? Because they also emailed me the security code. Once my scheduling process was done, I was emailed my appointment confirmation, and it included my details including the wrong cell phone number, which is when I found out about my mistake.

    So, as of 2/7, they were both emailing and texting the security code.

    I don’t know if it’s easy to find out their phone number, but the emails I received from them included

    “Call the CA COVID-19 Hotline at 1-833-422-4255 for assistance.”

    I called them to try to fix the cell phone number. While they didn’t know how to do that, they did answer the phone quickly, once I entered the right digits. (Some of their choices led to disconnections, so I kept trying till it worked.) I think they are able to make appointments through that phone line.

    When I showed up for the vaccine, the person at the registration desk said she was able to fix my cell phone number, and I did get a text from them later that same day, so I think she did fix it.

    Also: the SF web site for vaccinations now includes links to what appears to be ALL ways of getting vaccinated in San Francisco. That is, they helpfully link DIRECTLY to the right pages at all the larger vaccination sites (Moscone, SF State and City College), all our hospital systems and pharmacies that are vaccinating, and the community centers (they call them “Neighborhood residents drop-in”) open to residents of specific zip codes, where appointments are not needed (though it would be a waste of travel time if they are out of vaccines!).

    This main SF web site for everything is


    and you can get there by the shortcut


    This SF site is not yet 100% perfect – for instance, you need to know to click the ‘+’ to open the sections that list the neighborhood drop-in sites and pharmacies. The list of hospital links is in more than one place on the page, which is helpful.

    It is still true that it isn’t a single reservation system. You have to click through to every single place and go through their own processes to look for appointment availability. They all use different user interfaces:

    UCSF has its own appointment system
    Sutter has its own appointment system
    I suppose Kaiser has something too
    You probably need to be registered at all of their web siites, and probably need to be a patient.

    Being a patient seems to be loosely defined. You don’t need to use them for primary care – you just need some patient records in their system, which you would if you ever used any affiliated doctor or service. So if you’ve ever seen a doctor affiliated with UCSF, or with CPMC, they will consider you a patient. You just have to set up an account – at UCSF’s My Chart or Sutter’s My Health.

    CVS, Walgreens, Safeway Pharmacy – you need a. login at them too, which is easy to create.

    Moscone – uses the state’s My Turn system
    City College/UCSF – uses eventbrite (the even organizing service). This is drive-through only.
    SF State/Safeway – uses Safeway’s scheduling system

    You may not need to be a UCSF patient or have a Safeway Pharmacy account to use the City College or SF State locations, but I’m not sure.

    UCSF (at both the Parnassus and Mission Bay campuses) were giving out appointments, though they too ran out. But I saw appointments at both locations a few days ago.

    Perhaps my experience and comments here will help others in the future. (Anyone reading this web page probably has an email address.)

    Gotta keep trying. Set aside 30 minutes twice a day and run through half a dozen of these options. San Francisco’s “getvaccinated” web page has been vastly improved since I first saw it a week ago, so I think things are only going to get better as they figure this stuff out. Too bad they didn’t set things up several months ago!

    Good luck everyone!

  3. Give it up, Tom. Do really want us to believe that you don’t know the difference between a cell phone and a landline?

  4. “Tom. You can apply for Social Security in person or on the phone. My bank verifies my identity by calling me on the phone and giving me a code.”

    So if you have a phone what is the freaking problem here?

    And the title of your piece also suggests needing a computer and the internet. Fine, but you applied online yourself by your own admission!

    The reality is that you can also book a vaccine by getting someone else to do it for you. In fact that is what I did.

  5. Tom, Tom, Tom. You can apply for Social Security in person or on the phone. My bank verifies my identity by calling me on the phone and giving me a code.

  6. “To tom: I do online banking, and indeed am getting my Social Security. Neither require the use of a cell phone.”

    Funnily enough I applied for SS benefits a few days ago, and it definitely requires a code sent to your cell. If you applied a few years ago that may not have been the case. But 2FA is the standard now. Welcome to the 21st century.

    And I would not bank with an institution that relied only on an email address and a password.

  7. To Citygal: It is a good thing to target people in zip codes that are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, and it is good that people in those zip codes have options that don’t require computers or cell phones. Why can’t the same kind of procedures be put in place at Moscone?

    To “tom:” I do online banking, and indeed am getting my Social Security. Neither require the use of a cell phone.

  8. For others without cell phones, the Keith location had a “soft” opening, only publicized in 93124 and 93134, but now the SF General site is open and additional Zip Codes are included. These areas are the ones with the greatest number of Covid cases and deaths:

    New S.F. walk-in vax site up and running: Walk-in vaccinations now are available 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to any southeast San Francisco resident age 65 or older at the newly opened ZSFG building at 1001 Potrero Ave, and the SE Health Clinic at 2401 Keith St. No insurance is needed. They are available to people who live in five zip codes: 94107, 94110, 94112, 94124 and 94134.1

  9. Norton, I assume that you do not have any online banking or brokerage accounts either? Since they all implement “two factor authentication” (2FA) which, usually, requires a code texted to your phone. It does not have to be an expensive smart phone – a simple old-style flip phone is good enough.

    This is for your safety and security, to ensure that nobody else gets your vaccination, or money.

    And social security uses the same method to process an application for benefits, and you surely are getting a SS pension by now? So how did you manage that?

  10. @ sfrobink – “Hey – look what I found on the internet. Something that all of the doctors and scientists missed!”

  11. To sfrobink: I just took a look at the CDC Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System website. I can’t figure out how you found “500 deaths.” Perhaps you could explain how you came up with that number.

  12. [UPDATE — Sunday, February 14, 7:30pm]
    I was able to get a first vaccination shot on Saturday — just under the wire, as the City announced just a couple of hours ago that the Moscone site “will pause for one week” because “the vaccine supply… is limited, inconsistent, and unpredictable…” The Chronicle ran an article this morning about Kaiser complaining that it hasn’t been allocated enough doses. Perhaps the SF Department of Public Health can take advantage of this “pause” to get its appointment system fixed so that people without access to computers and cell phones can get vaccinated.

  13. I am immune-compromised, but I know something from being compromised – in support groups, we have always discussed how to support our immune system. So I have done so throughout this entire time, and i am doing fine. I have taken daily up to 10 gms of Vitamin C, 5000IU Vitamin D, turmeric (anti-inflam), and a mushroom extract with 17 dried mushrooms in a capsule – mushrooms are anti-viral. I have had 4 negative tests so far. It is a lot safer to boost our immune system naturally than to risk our health and lives with these vaccines. The CDC VAERS reports (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) is up to over 500 deaths and over 11,000 severe reactions, some of them permanent so far. It is a voluntary reporting site, so there are many more vaccine disasters. Look on youtube for the people showing you their tremors, their pain, their incapacitations as a result of taking the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which aren’t really vaccines, since traditional vaccines use weakened or killed strains. Tnese are experimental biotechnology – yes, the mRNA in them is synthetic, and it’s wrapped in nanoparticles of PEG – polyethyleneglycol – which people can also be reacting to. Not only allergic individuals are reacting, but also those who have been healthy. I implore you NOT to think of these vaccines as your saviors, because you can end up dead or injured afterwards. The vaccine makers, the patent holders and stockholders are making a ton of money off of it, including Fauci. No, better to protect naturally and safely. Other safe supplements include a good multi vit/min, glutathione/NAC, echinacea, goldenseal, elderberry, hydroxychloroquine/zinc/quercitin,, eat low sugar, and more.

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