Some seniors frustrated with new Md. vaccine appointment call center

Getting a vaccine appointment in Maryland is not an easy task for some seniors. While the state opened a new vaccine appointment call center to create greater access, whether callers get through on the phone seems entirely up to chance.

Aimed at seniors who don’t have internet access, Maryland’s new vaccination support center is staffed seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The call center number is 1-855-MD-GO-VAX, which is 1-855-634-6829.

But Mark Curl, 73, of Anne Arundel County, spent a good part of his day trying to get through to no avail. “I’ve been hung up on, put on hold, promised two callbacks. And nothing has happened in a three-hour period,” he said.

He’s not alone. WTOP heard from a dozen seniors who had the same experience and wondered if the system went down.

“No, none. No issues. We’ve had a great day so far. In fact, yesterday, we had a soft launch, where we tested the system out and things went very well,” said Steve Kolbe, chief technology officer for the Maryland Department of Health.

“Due to high-call volume, the support center is experiencing fluctuating wait times. As of 3:30 p.m., the call center has received nearly 39,000 calls,” Maryland Department of Health spokesman Charles Gischlar said Tuesday night.

The call center is staffed with 310 people answering the phone, and he was unaware of any disconnected phone calls or extended wait times Tuesday afternoon. It has the ability to ramp up to 560 call-takers if they need to next week, he said.

WTOP tried the number, and after entering the ZIP code and acknowledging you’re in one of the groups eligible to get a vaccine, callers can set up an appointment at a mass vaccination site, get information on COVID-19 or learn more about getting vaccinated. However, the voice prompt said the wait was one to 10 minutes, and we hung up after spending 25 minutes on hold.

Another senior emailed WTOP with a similar experience but did not want to be identified.

“I called the number at 7 a.m.; they said the wait was one to seven minutes. Two hours later, I finally pushed the button to have them call me back. Six hours later, they called, put me on hold again, and then hung up. This is absolutely shameful, and I hope that you will go back and provide an accurate assessment of this completely dysfunctional vaccine system in Maryland,” she wrote.

All Marylanders age 65 and older are eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19, but many have had difficulty securing an appointment. Despite hearing reports of unanswered calls and wait times, Kolbe said the system is meeting demand.

“I was on that number all day yesterday and today. I was on hold. They said one to seven minutes. Wrong. I was on 30 minutes each time using four phones and two computers and then it hung up. I would call back 20 times. I used the texting option — NO GOOD. At 11 a.m., they told me it was all taken. Try to register for M&T Stadium on Feb. 25. The option to have someone call back when it is your time in line. No callback,” said Ramona Cohen, who described her experience in an email.

On its first day of operation, the Maryland Department of Health said the call center booked 2,000 appointments.

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.

Megan Cloherty

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

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