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Vaccine signup process proves to be a ‘nightmare’ for some

  • Joe and Judy Perez have yet to receive an email allowing them to register for their first shot of the COVID vaccine. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 1/27/2021 3:43:25 PM

Judy and Joseph Perez were told they did everything right.

When the registration portal opened at 8 a.m on Friday morning, they immediately logged in and entered their information to get a coveted COVID-19 vaccine appointment.

A confirmation email they received shortly after said they would receive a link in three to five days that would allow them to select an appointment date and time. Everything had gone smoothly – they sent a thumbs-up emoji to their friends, who were also registering on Friday.

Around midday, they realized something was wrong. About 15 of their friends, almost all of whom were younger than them, received their sign-up links and were booking their appointment dates. Even five days later, the email has still not arrived to their inbox.

The vaccine registration process is supposed to be on a first come, first served basis since everyone who is eligible for Phase 1b, which includes everyone over 65 and the medically vulnerable, are equally prioritized to get an appointment slot. When the system has glitches, those who are affected get pushed to the back of the line.

For many who registered on Friday, like the Perezes, the two-step process was not so straightforward. Some residents who registered on Friday were able select an appointment almost immediately, others, without any clear rhyme or reason, waited several days before they were able to sign up, with only distant vaccination dates left to choose. When those who were trying to troubleshoot the process went to the state for guidance, they were met with endless holds and full mailboxes.

After a couple hours of checking and rechecking their inbox and junk folder, the Perezes became frantic.

“I’m practically obsessed with it,” Joseph said.

“At the end of the night, he says to me, ‘Do not check that before you go to bed!’,” Judy said.

Over the weekend, they called every help-line they could find. They called so many times, Judy could recite the phone number by memory.

Representatives who promised to call back in an hour often called back in five. Between Friday and Monday, the call center had received just under 50,000 calls. They were disconnected, placed on hold, and sent to full voicemail boxes. When they finally did reach a real person, many offered only rudimentary troubleshooting advice.

After hours of waiting on hold, still no one could explain to them why they hadn’t received a sign-up email. More than a dozen people told them the same thing: keep waiting.

“I feel so helpless because no one can give us answer for any questions we ask,” she said. “It’s always ‘go to 2-1-1’ and then when we go to 2-1-1, they send us to 603-718-8826 – I know it by heart. We’ve just gone back and forth.”

Meanwhile, slots were filling up around the state. At a press conference on Tuesday, health officials said appointment times were booked through February – 130,000 people had snagged appointments within the first five days. They read in the paper that vaccination dates were being booked into April.

Then self-doubt started to set in. Maybe they did something wrong, they thought. Hotline workers assured them that if they received a confirmation email, which they did, everything had been done correctly.

“This thing is like a nightmare you’re not going to wake up from,” Joseph said.

Judy and Joseph, 77 and 74 respectively, don’t mind waiting for the vaccine. They were happy to step aside for frontline workers to get the shot and still believe teachers, who will start getting vaccinated in March, should be put ahead of them.

State officials aknowledged some problems.

“While the vast majority of people have already received the invitation to schedule their appointment, some emails may have been delayed due to incorrect information entered, such as an email address,” said Jake Leon, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services. “We are monitoring the registration lists for any email address errors and resending invitations as needed.”

What bothers the North Conway couple is the lack of communication. The feeling of helplessness.

“We’ve really, really self-distanced and worn masks and tried to do everything right,” Judy said. “We talked to people on the phone that, you know, are making plans to do a bike trip in May, and we won’t be able to do it. It’s like we’re now another six months into not doing anything.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, they had still not received an email to sign up for an appointment.

Others have had a similar experience.

Lee Owen, a senior Concord resident, said the idea that appointments were first come, first served seems to be “B.S.”

Owen registered his 80-year-old wife on the state vaccine website at exactly 8:16 a.m. on Friday. Owen, a veteran, had already received his COVID-19 vaccine through the VA.

Like the Perezes, the appointment email didn’t arrive.

He called 2-1-1. He called the hotline. He couldn’t get through to anyone. Owen became so frustrated, he decided to drive to the vaccination site in Concord. At least there, he would be able to talk to somebody face-to-face, he thought.

“Maybe somebody could tell me how to get through because I can’t get through to anybody,” he told the National Guardsman at the site.

They weren’t able to help him. Owen finally got an email on Tuesday afternoon and was able to schedule an appointment for his wife on March 16, which is later than some of his friends who signed up after he had, he said.

“We were first in and last out, I guess,” he said.


Teddy Rosenbluth bio photo

Teddy Rosenbluth is a Report for America corps member covering health care issues for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. She has covered science and health care for Los Angeles Magazine, the Santa Monica Daily Press and UCLA's Daily Bruin, where she was a health editor and later magazine director. Her investigative reporting has brought her everywhere from the streets of Los Angeles to the hospitals of New Delhi. Her work garnered first place for Best Enterprise News Story from the California Journalism Awards, and she was a national finalist for the Society of Professional Journalists Best Magazine Article. She graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology.



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