GAITHERSBURG, Md. — Whether it's staying up past midnight or setting the alarm for 5 a.m., Marylanders are doing whatever it takes to book a vaccine appointment for themselves or their loved ones.
The effort has been reignited after the federal government announced it would directly ship one million doses to retail pharmacies across the country this week, including Maryland and Virginia.
The Federal Retail Pharmacy Program currently has Walgreens as the only pharmacy to offer the shipment of Moderna vaccines in Maryland. Walgreens will have 7,500 doses in more than 90 stores in the state starting on Friday.
People who are eligible according to the state have been able to sign up on Tuesday, but with an influx of residents vying to reserve a time, the process has been challenging for others.
"I thought it was a good plan but unfortunately, it was more challenging than it seemed originally," Gaithersburg resident Katie Johnston said. "I was up early this morning at 5:30 trying to schedule my grandmother but we weren't able to. Sometimes it would be this page isn't available and sometimes I'd be able to get through a few steps but it says there's not appointments available."
Johnston, with the help of friends, managed to book an appointment for her boyfriend, who is a teacher, and her 67-year-old father. Both of them were able to schedule their first and second dose at the same time.
Meanwhile, appointments she found for her grandmother were more than two hours away. One time slot in Annapolis only had the first dose available but not a second one. Patients who take the first dose of the Moderna vaccine need to take the second one 28 days later.
"It was only the first dose, but when I tried the second dose, it said none was available," Johnston said. "I'm not sure why some [people] were able to schedule the first dose but I wasn't."
Like Johnston, many other residents have been relying on Facebook community groups with people sharing their experiences and when an appointment is available to each other. In some cases, some have been staying up until 1 a.m. constantly refreshing their web page in hopes of finding an open slot.
Walgreens requires eligible people to create an account and complete a short screening at Walgreens.com/ScheduleVaccine.
Some on the Facebook group "Maryland Vaccine Hunters" commented how putting in the county instead of the zip code has been helpful. Lauren McCormick of Frederick County told WUSA9 that she found success early Wednesday morning after opening a new tab on Google Chrome.
McCormick admitted she spent almost every downtime into late Tuesday night searching for an appointment through the Walgreens appointment scheduler. The same online system had a temporary outage on Tuesday due to "high demand."
Walgreens has not responded to questions about the possible glitch in not being able to book a second dose appointment.
The company announced it has partnered with Uber to provide free or discounted rides for people with vaccination appointments.