‘Not an ideal rollout’: CVS Virginia vaccine launch marred by tech problems

It was good news when Gov. Ralph Northam announced last week that CVS would be making 26,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines available per week in Virginia, but the program launched early on Tuesday and has led to confusion so far.

“Not an ideal rollout,” state vaccination coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said at a media briefing Tuesday.

The plan was for CVS to start accepting appointments on Thursday for vaccinations starting Friday, Avula said. But the site launched two days early in an effort to get all the people who had signed up for vaccine appointments with local health departments to get into the CVS system.

That didn’t happen, and instead, when the site went live, anyone was able to sign up.

Avula said the idea was for people who had signed up with local health departments to get into the CVS system when it opened Thursday, so as to reinforce Virginia’s equity guidelines and priorities.

“For various reasons, CVS was … not able to deliver a technological solution that would allow us to preregister folks who had already been waiting on our list,” Avula said.

Instead, he said, CVS made the appointment scheduler available starting Tuesday. “And then that would hopefully give our health department folks a bit of a head start to get folks off of our registration list enrolled in appointments,” he said.

It didn’t go as planned: “Unfortunately, they were not able to do that in a way that limited access. And so, what that led to was that anybody who was on the internet trying to get an appointment through CVS could go in and make an appointment.”

Avula said he didn’t know exactly how many people the health departments were able to move from their lists into CVS appointments.

CVS would be checking identification to make sure anyone showing up to a vaccine appointment was over 65 years old, Avula said, but they couldn’t check to make sure they were signed up with their local health department.

Health departments compiled waiting lists with equity in mind, Avula said, and opening the site to anyone led to a situation that several health directors likened to “people getting the best concert tickets, because they were … just ready to go on the website. And so that’s the core issue for us, is that this is an issue both of fairness for people who have preregistered and who have been waiting, but also have equity” among people with low incomes, who don’t speak English or who don’t have good internet access.

Avula chose to look at “the silver lining,” saying that in the end, “it’s 26,000 more doses. And so we’re happy to welcome that into Virginia.”

CVS vaccine appointments will only go to people age 65 and up, and “it’ll relieve some of the pressure … so that we can continue to serve the most vulnerable who are preregistered,” Avula said.

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.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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