Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan toured the new mass vaccination site at Six Flags America in Prince George’s County after a new portal was launched without any public announcement Friday.
“We didn’t even hardly tell anybody about it because we wanted to slowly test out the system,” said Hogan, referring to it as a “soft launch.”
The registration portal opened at 8 a.m. “The bad news is that we filled up all the available slots,” Hogan said. “But the good news is we scheduled 10,000 slots in the first 20 minutes.”
Though the mass vaccination sites — another one also opened Friday at the Baltimore Convention Center — offer more capacity, they don’t come with added vaccines.
Hogan said he is hoping that the federal government’s vaccine allotment to states will increase.
As he toured the Six Flags site Friday, Hogan said, “We’re going to add a couple of more … sites next week, and we’re going to continue to grow. I mean, the idea eventually is to build an infrastructure that can handle millions of vaccines with thousands of vaccinators all across the state.”
He said the concept was like “building an infrastructure machine,” but reiterated that more vaccines are needed from the federal government.
Currently, Hogan said 250 vaccinations are happening each day at the Six Flags site.
“And then we’re immediately going to 2,000 a day, and then as soon as the supplies pick up, which we’ve been promised by the federal government that they will, we’re going to be able to do 6,000 a day” at Six Flags, Hogan said. To receive updates on appointments, text “MdReady” to 898-211.
Though the portal launched Friday morning will serve as a single registration point for the mass vaccination sites, there will not be a state-run single point to register for vaccinations.
Hogan told reporters, “What we don’t want is to have one central site that 6 million people are crashing; that doesn’t work.”
The current system, where users can apply at pharmacies, hospitals and county health departments, prevents bottlenecks, he said.
Many Marylanders have complained that since the state doesn’t have a single central website accepting registrations, they spend hours on end scouring different, sites trying to snag an appointment for a vaccination for themselves or their loved ones.
When told that Hogan said a single central portal for the state would be unworkable, Anne Arundel County resident Pam Cotter was skeptical. “Why is it working in other states?” she asked, citing media reports singling out New Mexico’s centralized registration site.
Cotter, 67, can tick off the sites where she and her husband have registered to try to get an appointment — 10 in all, spreading from Baltimore to Prince George’s to Queen Anne’s counties.
Her husband is 69 and a cancer survivor, she said; “As much as I want it, I’m more worried about my husband than I am for myself.”
Cotter describes sitting with two computers open, jumping from one keyboard to another, struggling to get an appointment before they get snapped up.
Cotter said her best friend likened the process to getting vaccines to “The Hunger Games,” “Because everybody’s fighting each other trying to get vaccines.”
She was among those who got word Friday morning that the mass vaccination site had a registration portal. She tried it and saw two appointments open on Feb. 14. She said she asked her husband if Valentine’s Day was OK? He said sure; they weren’t going anywhere.
“It gave me a system error,” Cotter said. “I spent a half an hour going back and forth trying this.”
Then, she called a number on the website four times; “it kept telling me it was closed.”
She spotted another number and called that. She gave up at 10 a.m.
“They need something centralized,” Cotter said, so that users can register in a single place, plug in their information and then get a notification when there’s an opening in their area.
“If somebody told me that I could have an appointment on April 15, I’d take it,” Cotter said, her voice rising with frustration. “Just tell me when — it doesn’t have to be tomorrow. I just want to know that my husband and I — and others like us — can get a shot in the arm. That’s all I want.”
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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct Pam Cotter’s age.