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One Family's Elaborate Plan To Get Their Loved Ones Vaccinated

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

More than 27 million Americans have gotten their first dose of a COVID vaccine out of a population of nearly 330 million. We have a ways to go, and everything is riding on this. For many, getting those vaccines has not been straightforward at all. In a moment, we'll hear what it's been like for seniors in Florida. First, how one family had to work together to get their seniors vaccinated. It involved a lot of phone calls and text messages over thousands of miles and an unforgettable day trip across town.

STEPHANIE PORRAS: When I talked to my grandma initially in late December, I was like, oh, you know, have you got your shot? You know, have you got your permit for a shot yet? And she's like, no, no, no, we're fine. Like, we don't have any other health conditions.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Stephanie Porras. She lives in New Orleans. Her grandparents are 86 and 82. They live in West Covina, just outside of Los Angeles. They have a big extended family, including Stephanie's aunt...

JULIE HANKINS: My name is Julie Hankins. I'm the oldest of five and the nurse. So I'm everybody's medical person.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...And Stephanie's mom.

RENEE PINA: My name is Renee Pina. The family still comes over every Saturday night for dinner at the house. And we are worried because even though most of them are working from home, a few of the great-grandkids are still out working. And so, you know, we were worried about the exposure to them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Now, figuring out if their seniors could get the vaccines was confusing. California said absolutely. But then LA's mayor decided to limit shots to just health care workers. In late January, he opened up doses for those 65 and older. So then the problem became where to go and when. Even Julie, the nurse, was mystified.

HANKINS: We really had to hunt and fight and find it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Eighteen hundred miles away, Stephanie got to work.

PORRAS: So I would, like, be forwarding my mom stuff. My mom has, like, a weekend call with my grandfather, and she would press him on certain things. And then they announced that they were opening the vaccine site at Dodger Stadium. I saw it on Twitter. I called my mom and was like, you should try and get them an appointment there. There'll be lots of appointments.

PINA: So then I called my dad and said, hey, you got to go on and do this. And he said, OK, I'm going to talk to Julie, the older sister, who's the nurse. And so she got on a register, but, you know, there was big problems with the website crashing or wasn't working.

HANKINS: I didn't want to take them to Dodger Stadium 'cause I kind of thought it would be a madhouse. There are other places that were closer that had no appointments. There was just nothing available. Everything filled up.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: On January 20, nurse Julie went out early to get her second shot. Then miraculously, she snagged an appointment for her parents.

HANKINS: Called my dad and said, do you want to go to Dodger Stadium? And - yes, what time are we leaving? And that's how quick it was.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Julie and her parents left after lunch. It was only a 30-minute drive to Dodger Stadium. Things were going great, but...

HANKINS: Probably took about another three hours once we got off the freeway just to get into Dodger Stadium 'cause there was just this long line of cars, and it just was hardly moving. So luckily, they came prepared with, you know, things to do - you know, reading and stuff in the car. And then when we got into Dodger Stadium through the gates - oh, good. We can see the vaccine site, the big tents and the lights. By then, it's dark.

PINA: When I talked to them several times during this, they were in a cheerful mood. And, you know, I think my sister being there helped my parents from being upset and frustrated about it. It was like, we're going to get our shot, and we're going to stay here. And we're going to do it.

PORRAS: My mom called me and was like, oh, my God, they're stuck in the car. And so at that point feeling utterly powerless 'cause I am thousands of miles away, and, like, there is nothing I can do about the situation. I tweeted angrily at a bunch of people - at the city of Los Angeles, the mayor's office, the public health department of Los Angeles, who was running the site. Then my mom told me and was a little bit like, hey, you're the one who told me to tell them the Dodger Stadium. And then I was like, I'm going to try and figure this out. And my mom's texting her sister, who's in the car with my grandparents, go in the inside lane. This is all the things I got from Twitter. Like, the inside lane is faster. They are honoring appointments. They found out where some port-a-potties were.

HANKINS: They came very well prepared. The biggest thing was bathrooms (laughter) and no food. So we left their house about 1:30 in the afternoon, and we got home 9:30.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nine hours to get vaccinated.

PINA: It's a lot more than you want for just a shot, you know?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We heard there from Renee Pina; her daughter, Stephanie Porras; and her sister, who took one for the team, Julie Hankins. The next go-round, they hope, will not take anywhere near as long. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.