Like many DC seniors, I had a frustrating experience while trying to schedule my first Covid-19 vaccination on Monday, the first day the District opened registration to those of us 65 and older.
I first tried at noon, through the vaccinate.dc.gov portal.
My expectations were low. Snags had been reported in signing up healthcare workers around the country, with websites crashing and phone registration no better.
Well, the DC website did not crash on me, but it was clunky. These are some of the issues I encountered:
- It took me a while to figure out that if appointment did not pop up right away at a particular vaccination center, there were no appointments available.
- A calendar button appeared to show scheduling options beyond this week. I clicked, to no avail.
- Then in trying backtrack, I got stuck on a page with the locations map. I actually had to reregister to get back to the vaccination sites and appointments.
- When I reregistered, I saw a message: “If no appointments are available, please register again tomorrow.” I got the impression that users had to reregister every time they checked for appointments.
- When I finally found a site that had appointments and signed up, I got the message, “This site does not have vaccines allocated.” I was totally mystified by this.
I tried to call for an appointment, too. That led me to a dead end. And when I tried again online at 3:30 p.m., this message was on the scheduling page: “All 6,700 of the available vaccination appointments for the week of 1/11/21 were filled.”
That was an eye-opener. Communications to the public did not make clear how many appointments would be available during the first week of the expanded rollout. Remember, there are approximately 85,000 people over the age of 65 in the District. The 6,700 appointments allotted for the week amount to less than 8 percent of the senior population. And that’s not DC’s fault. The District and communities around the U.S. are limited by the number of doses they receive, and the national distribution has been inconsistent.
Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh, in an email to constituents on Tuesday, said the District has typically received around 4,000 vaccine doses per week, and the amount was expected to triple this week.
“But, even with this increase, it is clear that there was simply no possible way that there would be enough doses or appointments available for every senior anxious to receive one,” Cheh wrote.
Cheh’s office has been in contact with the team at DC Health to identify and correct the many issues her constituents have told her about. “Happily,” she wrote, the DC Health team told her that “they will launch user-friendly updates to the online portal and will clearly state which sites have available appointments and which sites are full moving forward.”
Cheh also said she is addressing a number of outstanding issues with DC Health, “including confirmation that the automatic alert system is functioning, whether additional call volume can be added to the appointment phone line, and what plan is in place for inoculating home-bound seniors.”
Residents on Cleveland Park and Chevy Chase listservs brought up another issue that wasn’t mentioned in Cheh’s newsletter. It appears that some who thought they succeeded in scheduling appointments did not succeed in getting their shot. A few people said they had arrived at the Chevy Chase Safeway for scheduled appointments or to seek information on registering, only to be told that the city had scheduled 300 vaccination appointments, but the pharmacy was given only 15 doses. (Given the number of vaccination centers in the District, it’s likely those numbers were for the week, not the day they arrived.)
Not even the start time for seniors’ registration was certain. According to some sources I had seen, the system was to open at noon on Monday. DCist reports some people were scheduling appointments as early as 8:30 a.m.
On Monday, January 18th, the process starts again. If you have suggestions on improving the scheduling system beyond what Cheh included in her newsletter, please comment below.
And in the meantime, Cheh said, “it is important to remember that we still have access to simple, yet strong tools to protect ourselves: always wearing a mask when outside of the home, maintaining social distance, regular hand washing, and staying at home to the greatest extent possible.”
“Vaccine rollout will continue, and so too should our prevention efforts.”