WASHINGTON — Problems continue to persist with DC Health's vaccination website as residents work to sign up for a shot.
The District made thousands of appointments available again on Friday to residents who meet specific eligibility requirements, such as certain medical conditions if you're younger than 65 years old, to all zip codes.
DC Health added a registration session on Saturday, Feb. 27 at 9:00 a.m. for eligible residents with qualifying medical conditions in priority zip codes. City officials said 3,500 appointments were made available. The appointments were booked in less than an hour Saturday, with the next opening being scheduled for release on March 4.
Much like how on the first day appointments were open to the expanded group, dozens almost instantly voiced their frustration on social media Friday and Saturday, as the website crashed both days.
On Friday, many of the comments were about the confusion on why the CAPTCHA wasn't working and allowing people to move forward. The system seemed so fragile that it would crash repeatedly on users even if they were able to click on a time slot. Most of the people unsuccessful in booking an appointment kept receiving error messages, forcing them to sign up constantly. The available appointments were booked in less than 40 minutes.
"I got all the way through the appointment section and it froze up on me and then it kicked me all the way back to the beginning," Ward 4 resident David Small said. "I could never get back in because the system seemed so overloaded."
Small said he had high hopes once he learned people like him could sign up for a vaccine. While he said he has empathy toward the workers behind the website, he questioned if local health officials didn't consider the number of people vying to obtain a shot.
"I just know there are smart people out there who know how to do this and I think DC Health needs assistance from those people," Small added.
Councilman Charles Allen reported more than 30,000 people clicked the portal when it opened at 9 a.m. even when there were only 4,300 slots available.
"We experienced extremely high volume as demand for the vaccine remains high," Mayor Muriel Bowser tweeted. "DC needs more vaccine."
Part of a statement from the mayor's office posted on Twitter read, "We know how stressful of a time this is, and we appreciate your patience as we work together to get Washingtonians across all eight wards vaccinated."
On Thursday, the system also didn't allow people who met the new eligibility requirements to book a slot even though the homepage specifically said they were allowed to. As a result, DC Health had to issue an apology:
"We apologize for the issues with the vaccination portal this morning. The District’s COVID-19 vaccination appointment portal did not perform as expected due to a technical review failure that resulted in eligible residents with a qualifying medical condition being unable to register. As the IT team worked to stabilize the website due to heavy traffic, there were delays in finding and fixing the issue with the eligibility criteria."
Georgetown Washington University professor Jennifer Wells said Friday had more bumps as compared to Thursday. She was one of the lucky ones who was able to book an appointment for her older neighbor who isn't technically savvy.
Wells said it was all patience and pure luck because 20 minutes in and several failed attempts later, she eventually reached a page that showed a map with more than 10 locations in Northeast and Southeast to choose from.
"It was really exciting and I was happy that it worked out, but it was not the smoothest of processes," Wells said. "If this is complicated to me, I can't imagine what somebody who is 65 or 70 or older and barely uses the internet thinks of this."
Councilwoman Janeese Lewis George said she'll continue to push for a better and less stressful system for residents. Council members had sent the health department a letter about a month ago urging officials to create a new sign-up system to ease the process, which couldn't come at a better time.
DC Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt said a new, revamped process will be arriving next month to help with equity.
On a call on Thursday, the health department said the system would come either the first or second week of March. However, city officials pushed back on the idea that it would be a waitlist system.
Instead, residents in chosen zip codes who registered through the vaccination appointment portal and are qualified based on the phase and requirement will receive an alert to sign up.
"I'm really skeptical about this online system especially as more and more people become eligible," Wells said. "I have no idea how they would be able to handle the traffic that clearly will go into it."