DC vaccine website marred by tech issues again for 2nd ‘snafu’

D.C.’s coronavirus vaccine registration website struggled with more technical issues Friday, a day after many residents found themselves frustrated and unable to book appointments.

And one D.C. Council member said he plans to hold Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration accountable for the problems.

Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray, who oversees D.C.’s Committee on Health, wants to “reconfigure the hearing to have a panel discussion” on March 4 to discuss with administration officials what happened with D.C. Health’s online vaccination appointment portal.

Gray said, “The Committee on Health is conducting a performance oversight hearing on three agencies on Thursday, March 4th. I intend to reconfigure the hearing to have a panel discussion with Bowser Administration officials about the vaccination appointment process.” He also invited members of the public to testify.

Hours after all the appointments were taken and the social media storm had died down on Twitter from frustrated users, D.C.’s Chief Technology Officer Lindsey Parker offered tips for successfully getting a vaccination appointment on a future attempt. Here is the video with the tips:

Website issues cropped up right away. At 9 a.m., when residents were supposed to be able to register for more than 4,300 available doses, many were once again hindered by problems on D.C. Health’s website.

“Got all the way through to picking an appointment time and it went down and the appointments disappeared faster than I could click them. Then it just said ‘session expired’ and kicked me out. Now I can’t get beyond the captcha to access the questionnaire, it just keeps timing out,” one reader told WTOP, who added that there were problems with the phone number provided to call as well.

“Like, it gives me a captcha, I enter it, and the page takes so long to load that it boots me back out.”

Here’s the error code many users faced:

The reader told WTOP that, after using two computers and three phones to try to book an appointment, a friend of theirs was finally able to get through and book an appointment for them.

“We are trying this from two computers and three phones (and on my phone I’m trying the site and the number). If we can’t do this, how can people much less privileged than us do it?” the reader said.

Another reader wrote that they were hit with captcha problems, too.

“Of course site was flawed again. I kept getting captcha was wrong and could not proceed. See attached — the captcha was correct,” they wrote in an email to several D.C. Council members and media outlets. “Totally outrageous.”

Ward 6 Council member Charles Allen responded by email and said that he had spoken with D.C.’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer.

“They said more than 30,000 people clicked on the link at 9 a.m. and the volume is what overwhelmed the system today with so many people trying to fill out the forms for the small number of slots,” Allen wrote. “This approach is a mess and creating so much frustration. You have every right to be angry and disappointed in the system they’re using.”

Allen said he’s pushing for the creation of a one-time registration site, “rather than this weekly ‘competition.'”

“And that we need to expand age bands in a smarter way — rather than everyone 18-64 at the same time, it should be something like 50-64 one week, 30-50 the next week, and 18-30 the next week. Otherwise, the volume of people trying to get an appointment will always exceed well past the number of appointments available. I’ll be doing more follow-up with OCTO today.”

Bowser tweeted at 9:33 a.m. that Friday’s appointments had all been booked.

“We experienced extremely high volume as demand for the vaccine remains high. D.C. needs more vaccine,” Bowser tweeted after.

Users quickly responded: “D.C. absolutely does need more vaccine, but what happened this morning wasn’t a supply issue, it was a demand issue, and the city could have been better prepared. This was a failure on the part of the city. Own up to it.”

At-Large D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman called Thursday’s botched registration process a “snafu” after the city’s health department announced that 3,500 appointments for the vaccine would be made available at 9 a.m. Saturday.

D.C. Health tweeted out an apology Thursday and wrote that they were working to fix the issue.


More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Editor and reporter for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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