Frank Augstein/AP Photo
After this week, D.C. will be switch to a pre-registration system for booking COVID-19 vaccine appointments.
Frank Augstein/AP Photo
After portal crashes, dropped calls, and error messages bungled D.C.'s vaccine distribution for three consecutive days last week, the city will begin using a pre-registration system to schedule appointments.
Starting next week, eligible individuals will upload their information through a pre-registration website or by calling the city's vaccine call center, according to a statement from Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Health director LaQuandra Nesbitt. When appointments become available, they will receive an email and either a phone call or text message to alert them that they can make an appointment. D.C. Health did not immediately provide DCist with an exact date for the new system's launch.
It's also not clear how long people will have to book an appointment after receiving notification that an appointment is available. When officials announced plans for a new system last month, Nesbitt indicated that the city would notify eligible individuals of availability in smaller batches, giving them 24 hours to book an appointment online. D.C. Health has not yet announced the window for scheduling or the size of the groups that will be notified of availability.
Other changes are also coming to the current portal sooner. Starting Thursday, the website's questionnaire will be simplified, the captcha (a snag that blocked some people from booking vaccines last week) has been removed, and it will now allow only 3,000 users to access the appointment questionnaire at a time. Other users will wait in a virtual "waiting room." Bowser's statement also notes that D.C. Health and the Office of the Chief Technology Officer have been working with Microsoft to improve the server availability.
On Thursday at 9 a.m., around 5,750 appointments will open to residents ages 65 and older, and residents between ages 18-64 with qualifying medical conditions who live in priority ZIP codes. (These are based on the areas that have the lowest percentage of vaccinated residents; the priority ZIP codes this week are located in wards 5, 7, and 8). On Friday at 9 a.m., another 5,750 appointments will open to eligible residents in all wards.
For this week only, members of essential workforces (like grocery store workers) will not be eligible for an appointment on either Thursday or Friday. D.C. Health did not immediately provide an answer when DCist asked why workers were excluded in this week's distribution.
Following the approval of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine last weekend, D.C. said it is adding several new sites to the administer the doses, but officials did not include where they will be. Individuals will be able to see when booking their appointment which vaccine will be administered at each site, but D.C. Health is urging people to take the first vaccine that is made available to them.
The changes to the vaccine sign-up process follow last week's messy rollout to residents aged 18-64 with qualifying medical conditions and additional groups of essential workers — the city's largest cohort in the process so far. When the first appointments became available to eligible residents in priority ZIP codes on Thursday morning, the website had not been updated to reflect the new eligibility criteria, leading to widespread frustration as residents met error message after error message. Other residents reported that the site crashed multiple times, or they couldn't get through to the call center.
When more appointments opened the following morning to eligible residents across all wards and essential workers, those attempting to book appointments were once again met with technology snafus, prompting D.C. Health to issue troubleshooting solutions for navigating the portal. To correct Thursday's botched distribution, the city opened an additional 3,500 slots to eligible residents in priority ZIP codes on Saturday morning — and the system was once again riddled with website crashes and dropped calls.
D.C. Health was originally reluctant to the idea of a registration waitlist, but Nesbitt announced last month that a waitlist-like system would be rolled out in March. Still, the system wasn't ready by the time the city opened availability to hundreds of thousands of residents with underlying health conditions. The multi-day blunders only heightened calls from residents and lawmakers for a better system, and Thursday's announcement came as welcome relief for frustrated residents who had little success during the "Hunger-Games" scheduling system last week.
As of Wednesday, D.C. has administered 165,476 doses of the vaccine, and 9.3% of D.C.'s population have received at least one dose — with the city's wealthiest and whitest wards still reporting the highest percentage of vaccinated residents. In majority-Black Ward 8, 10.5% of residents over age 65 have received the vaccine, compared to 27.3% of seniors in Ward 3.
In Tuesday's statement, the city reiterated that the new pre-registration system will maintain a focus on equity as a "top priority," and D.C. Health will continue to set aside appointments for residents living in priority ZIP codes.
The city also announced a slight modification to D.C.'s current quarantine requirement; 90 days after being fully vaccinated, residents who show no COVID-19 symptoms do not need to quarantine after coming into contact with an individual who has tested positive.
This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.