A screenshot of the message some residents received Friday, March 5.
Updated at March 5, 12:33 p.m.: Following concern from the D.C. Council over the pre-registration system DC Health said it would implement as early as next week, city officials confirmed on Friday that Microsoft is hosting the new system. As of Thursday evening, it was unclear whether Microsoft or Accenture would deliver the pre-registration platform.
"We continue to develop and test a pre-registration portal with Microsoft to alleviate the traffic issue that an appointment portal presents," Mike Rupert, a spokesperson for the Office of the Chief Technology Officer, wrote in an emailed statement. "However, the demand will remain high, and we will continue to advocate for more vaccine."
Rupert added that OCTO is continuing to work on improving the user experience on the city's appointment portal. On Friday morning, there was a delay in activating the site, as traffic was more than three times higher than last week's peak, he said.
The site wasn't activated until 9:06 a.m. and more than 4,500 spots were booked within 10 minutes.
Original: After days of technical failures, all signs pointed to a smoother vaccine registration system on Thursday as eligible D.C. residents were able to sign up for 5,750 appointments with far fewer hiccups. City officials had implemented a "virtual waiting room" allowing only 3,000 users at a time and increased server availability to address complaints about the site crashing. The complicated CAPTCHA verification process was gone.
On Friday, however, the registration troubles continued once again.
Within minutes of the 9 a.m. opening of the registration period, residents reported that the website was down and the phone line was offering error messages. Some reported that even after refreshing the site multiple times, they received a message from the day before.
Still, many were able to register successfully, as DC Health announced just minutes after the site opened that all 5,750 slots had been filled.
For those unable to book an appointment, an on-screen message appeared telling users that demand continues to outpace supply. "DC NEEDS MORE VACCINE," the message read.
But residents and D.C. Council members have lambasted the first-come-first-served, Hunger Games-like appointment hunt and say that even with its limited supply, the city needs a better system.
"We are still missing very vulnerable people with the tech that we have," Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau said during an 11-hour oversight hearing on Thursday. "I want to keep talking about how we can expand opportunities for people to sign up and get the vaccine. I'm hoping having a registration system makes it a little easier."
D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt provided vague details about a pre-registration system that had been announced to launch next week when questioned about it during a Thursday press briefing. She walked reporters through the system, saying that registrants will be prioritized based on their Zip code, health conditions, and age. The process will not operate as a waitlist.
"Just because you go into the system the first day it opens doesn't mean you're going to be the first person to get a vaccine appointment," Nesbitt said.
However,hours into the council's oversight hearing Thursday, assistant city administrator Jay Melder said that the city hadn't yet chosen between Microsoft and Accenture — meaning, the decision of which vendor the city will chose for the new system is still up in the air.
"We want to make sure that when we do transition into a pre-registration system that it's the right one, that it's been through the right testing, that it has the right features that we're looking for," Melder said. "We can't give you a time or date ... We never said we were going to release it Monday. We can't give you what day and time next week that's going to become available because we're still working out some things there."
The Office of the City Administrator and Executive Office of the Mayor didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
D.C.'s chief technology officer Lindsey Parker explained the decision-making process behind setting up the current system, which Microsoft developed and hosts on its cloud, booking more than 45,000 appointments so far despite the glitches.
Parker walked councilmembers through a demo of the pre-registration portal, outlining the questionnaire residents will fill out, and the method by which residents will be invited to sign up for an appointment. Users will be able to choose from a list of locations with information on which type of vaccine is offered at each site — the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be available at some of these sites.
Despite the demonstration, councilmembers were still vexed by the proposed timeline.
"I was surprised to find out we haven't chosen a vendor yet for the new pre-registration system, despite a mockup shown to press & @councilofdc," At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman tweeted Friday. "The best explanation, which was not given, is that there is a backup plan if the chosen system does not work. But we need it to work."
Silverman added that she's not sure how DC Health can launch a system next week without ample user testing, load testing, and other vetting measures. City officials with DC Health and the city administrator's office offered vague answers when Silverman asked about how a vendor would be selected and how the new system would avoid further pitfalls.
"The last few weeks, I think it is fair to say, have eroded the confidence of our residents in our government to efficiently and fairly distribute a life-saving vaccine," Silverman said at Thursday's hearing. "I have to say, what truly kills me as a representative of this government is that I know we can launch health-related IT systems that work."
This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.