Some saw error messages and webpages displaying information from the wrong date. Many reported trouble accessing the city’s call center, which is supposed to help those who don’t have a computer or Internet access.
Some residents who successfully booked appointments online said they received multiple confirmation emails with different dates.
Still, the D.C. Health Department reported all 5,750 vaccine appointments that opened Friday to residents 65 and older or with qualifying health conditions were filled within 10 minutes.
In a statement, Mike Rupert, communications director for the D.C. Office of the Chief Technology Officer, said there was a “6-minute delay” in activating the website because “traffic was more than 3x higher than last Friday’s peak.”
“Once the site was able to be activated at 9:06 a.m., residents were routed to the Microsoft vaccine scheduling application which functioned as expected,” the statement said.
The glitches were yet another point of discouragement for residents and members of the D.C. Council, who at an oversight hearing Thursday night had pressed city health and technology officials about shortcomings with the registration portal and the readiness of a preregistration system that is supposed to go live next week.
“I’ve reached out — yet again on a Friday morning — to find out what is going wrong this morning with the vaccine website and call center,” council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) tweeted. “So many people frustrated again.”
Melissa Wasser, of Columbia Heights, said she received a variety of error messages when trying to help her boyfriend and a friend get appointments, including one that said, “Error 504, Gateway time-out.” Wasser, 28, said the call center informed them that the call they were trying to make was “not allowed on this line” and directed them to call 611 for technical support.
They struggled despite having a desktop computer, two laptops and an iPad ready when D.C.’s registration site went live. Wasser, who works for the nonprofit Project On Government Oversight, said her friend was not able to secure an appointment — but her boyfriend eventually got a slot on his desktop computer, which is directly connected to the Internet router.
“That is probably the only reason he got through, which shows so many equity issues,” Wasser said. “We were very lucky.”
Friday marked the one-year anniversary of the first coronavirus case being confirmed in the D.C. region — a Montgomery County woman who contracted it overseas. Since then, more than 1 million cases of the virus have been reported in the District, Maryland and Virginia, and more than 18,000 people have died. There were 108 new cases reported in D.C. on Friday and three deaths. In Maryland, there were 913 new cases and 8 deaths; and there were 1,652 new cases and 71 deaths in Virginia.
In Annapolis on Friday, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and the state’s top legislative leaders gathered for a vigil outside the State House, its steps lit with tea-light candles, for a moment of silence to commemorate the nearly 8,000 who have died.
“After confronting a threat unlike anything we have seen in our lifetime, each day now brings us closer to a return to normalcy,” Hogan said. “We can now finally see that light at the end of the tunnel.”
People across the region and the country have struggled to secure vaccine appointments due to a limited supply of shots and balky sign-up systems unable to handle demand.
In Maryland, Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said frustration about the vaccination process continues to jeopardize the confirmation of acting health secretary Dennis Schrader. Ferguson said he wants the state to have more “coherence in the system,” so people know when and where to get the vaccine, and to make significant progress on racial equity in distribution.
“There is still too much confusion,” Ferguson said in a virtual news conference. “If the decision were right now, I think we’d be hard pressed to see the confirmation go through smoothly.”
In the District, tens of thousands have tried to log on over the past two weeks whenever a few thousand appointments become available, often overwhelming the system. At Thursday’s hearing, several council members said they had received emails from constituents who were so discouraged by previous registration difficulties that they questioned whether it was worth seeking a vaccine in the first place.
D.C. Chief Technology Officer Lindsey Parker apologized repeatedly for the problems but cited a smooth process Thursday morning as a sign of things to come. She said her department had closely coordinated with Microsoft, its vendor, to increase bandwidth and improve user experience.
“We have worked very hard the past five days to resolve the issues last week and that will not happen again,” Parker testified.
Next week, the District is slated to ditch its sign-up website in favor of a preregistration system akin to those used in Maryland and Virginia. But when asked by members of the council for more details about the new system, Assistant City Administrator Jay Melder said the city was still deciding between Microsoft and another vendor, Accenture, to operate it.
The statement prompted tweets of exasperation from council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), who said she was confounded by the last-minute uncertainty.
On Friday, however, a spokesperson for Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said Microsoft was the chosen vendor. City officials did not respond to questions about when that decision was reached.
City officials emphasized the need for the federal government to send additional doses of the vaccine to the District, a message they also posted on the sign-up portal once all the available appointments were gone.
“We continue to develop and test a pre-registration portal with Microsoft to alleviate the traffic issue . . . ” Rupert, of the Office of the Chief Technology Officer, said in the statement. “However, the demand will remain high, and we will continue to advocate for more vaccine.”