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 the Seattle neighborhood of View Ridge. She made her way to the Burke-Gilman Trail on the edge 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. She caught a glimpse of Lake Washington through falling snow. 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 phone calls and visited the websites of local pharmacies, hospitals and state health departments without success. She hired a daughter in New York and a friend in Arizona to find an appointment.
Finally, on Friday, a visit to the Seattle Children's Hospital website 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 ultimately 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 take.
And on Sunday she went all the way to the hospital to get her vaccine.
The appointment went smoothly, she said. And it had special meaning to Ms. Goldman, because she could remember the joy of national celebrations in 1955 when another important vaccine was developed.
"I can remember the time when the polio vaccine was introduced," said Ms. Goldman. She was a young mother at the time, 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 where she lived in Cincinnati.
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. "
Its rollout in Washington state has been hampered by technology failures, equity bottlenecks, and persistent supply and demand imbalances. State officials have worked hard to put in place the infrastructure necessary to plan and vaccinate the millions of people who are already eligible.
And while similar stories have played out across the country, vaccine distribution in the US is slowly improving. President Biden said this week that any American who wanted a Covid-19 vaccination should have 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 establishing 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 drive.
And when it's all over, she hopes to be able to take people back into her home, to resume volunteering at a nearby arboretum, and to 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.