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DC's vaccine registration website crashes frustrating thousands of newly eligible residents

The problems began soon after the portal website opened to more than 4,000 new eligible residents under DC Health's new phase.

WASHINGTON — Frustration is mounting among many residents in the District eager to get the latest batch of vaccines after the online appointment system had a dismal start on the first day appointments were expanded to a new group. 

The city initially said in a tweet there was a high volume of traffic that could cause delays. However, it also became evident from the flurry of residents commenting on social media that the vaccine portal somehow didn't update to accept eligible residents under the new phase. 

The District announced about 4,350 vaccination appointments would be made available on its sign-up portal at 9 a.m. Thursday for people who live in priority zip codes in Wards 5, 7 and 8. Residents had to be 65 years old or older, have a qualifying medical condition for people 18 and older or be a member of an eligible workforce.

The city listed 20 medical conditions which include cancer, HIV, asthma, hypertension, pregnancy and obesity. 

Sianna Boschetti, who said she met the criteria of being obese, kept refreshing the website and filled out the questionnaire, only to receive a message at the end that she wasn't qualified for the vaccine. 

"I was very bummed and I was very surprised," Boschetti said. "After all of the build up to this, they made this little mistake they forgot to update the website or didn't prepare for the volume of people."

Much like Boschetti, many others shared screenshots of the message that said, "Currently, vaccination appointments are only available for District residents who were 65 years of age and older and/or occupants listed on coronavirus.dc.gov/vaccine."

Watch WUSA9's Lesli Foster and her interview with D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra S. Nesbitt below:

Another resident told WUSA9 it was confusing because the homepage of the portal system clearly stated having a qualifying medical condition for people 18 and older made you eligible for the vaccine.  He tried calling the department but couldn't get through with the number of callers overwhelming the phone system. 

Credit: Matthew Torres

DC Health acknowledged the problems pointing to the heavy traffic as the cause but stating the issues had been resolved. 

"We know how stressful of a time this is, and we regret that this unfortunate situation occurred on a day when many of our residents with chronic health conditions were newly eligible for vaccination appointments," DC Health said in a statement Thursday afternoon. "The technical review failure has now been addressed, and with tens of thousands of residents newly eligible for the vaccine this week, we are currently working with Microsoft in anticipation of extremely high traffic during future appointment releases."

The online appointments that were made available today are now booked, according to DC Health.

On Friday, Feb. 26, residents 18 and older with eligible medical conditions will be able to schedule a vaccine appointment online no matter the zip code. DC Health said 4,350 appointments will be available Friday, as well as an additional 3,500 appointments that will be released to priority zip codes on Saturday. 

See DC Health's full statement below:

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.

We know how stressful of a time this is, and we regret that this unfortunate situation occurred on a day when many of our residents with chronic health conditions were newly eligible for vaccination appointments. The technical review failure has now been addressed, and with tens of thousands of residents newly eligible for the vaccine this week, we are currently working with Microsoft in anticipation of extremely high traffic during future appointment releases.  

The portal and call center will open as scheduled for all eligible individuals on Friday, February 26, at 9:00 a.m. There will be 4,350 appointments available. We are also adding a registration session on Saturday, February 27 at 9:00 a.m., for eligible residents with qualifying medical conditions in priority zip codes. There will be 3,500 appointments available. Appointments can be scheduled by visiting vaccinate.dc.gov or calling 1-855-363-0333.

We know that the vaccine we currently have available is not enough to meet the demand among our residents and workers. Therefore, we will continue to advocate for DC to receive more vaccine so that any resident who wants a vaccine can get one. Our goal is to facilitate an equitable and efficient distribution of the vaccine.

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