Glitches, thin supply frustrate Virginia seniors seeking COVID-19 vaccine shot

Virginia seniors are having problems getting in a virtual line for COVID-19 vaccinations because health systems are overloaded with requests or experiencing technical issues.

Fairfax, Arlington and Loudoun counties are having difficulties taking appointments for those interested in getting vaccinated after the ages for eligibility expanded.

Gov. Ralph Northam opened up registration to those age 65 and older last Thursday. Previously, the state was only allowing health care workers and those age 75 and older to get it.

“As just a citizen scared of the virus, I’ve done everything I can under Arlington’s rules to get on the waiting list. And the system seems to be dysfunctional,” said Ken Hoagland, 67, of Arlington.

Hoagland’s struggle to register for a vaccination started when he did not get a confirmation email back from Arlington County’s Health Department after adding his name to a virtual waitlist.

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After he got in touch with a representative who was able to confirm his spot in line, Hoagland learned that the county’s system is not able to push confirmation emails to anyone with a Verizon or AOL email account.

“There’s a dysfunction in the county getting in touch with people who use AOL or Verizon, and AOL probably has an unusually large segment of senior citizens using it, who are in the target group right now,” Hoagland said.

Arlington County did not confirm the email issue to WTOP. However, in a county confirmation email to Hoagland, it states: “Please note we are aware that there may be issues with email accounts from and receiving a copy of the form through email at this time. If you have an email account with these providers, you may not receive the email confirmation — you are still pre-registered.”

In Fairfax County, a “technical issue” took down the vaccine registration website for hours on Monday morning, prompting many to reach out on social media to demand answers.

Meanwhile, hundreds have taken aim at the Virginia Hospital Center on social media, asking why its website does not allow patients younger than 75 to register for a vaccination appointment despite Northam’s order.

In short, the system said it doesn’t have the vaccine supply to meet the demand.

“We have received no confirmation from the State on future vaccine supplies, but should we receive additional vaccines we plan to open up additional appointments,” said Maryanne Boster of the Virginia Hospital Center in an email to WTOP.

“Virginia Hospital Center does not currently offer a waitlist and our system only sends confirmations to those individuals who have scheduled an appointment. We encourage people to check the website frequently for updates and appointment availability.”

Arlington County is ready to expand to 10,000 doses per week, but “we need assurance from (the Virginia Department of Health) on delivery of first vaccines and greater clarity about the arrival of second doses,” Arlington County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said in a statement.

Availability of vaccine supply is what is limiting the county’s ability to inoculate those eligible to the shots, de Ferranti said, but the county manager and public health director told him that they are only promised 1,400 doses this week of the first-dose vaccine.

“We have the capacity to do at least 2,000 doses per day or 14,000 per week, and we can do more if we were assured a greater supply,” de Ferranti said.

Also citing low vaccine reserves, Loudoun County’s Health Department is not taking any vaccination appointments right now for eligible patients. It’s asking patients to take a pre-screening survey, which will make the county aware of their interest in a vaccine when they’re available.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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