DC vaccine website issues frustrate residents

D.C. residents had serious trouble registering for coronavirus vaccination appointments online Thursday.

More than 4,000 slots were supposed to open at 9 a.m. for anyone 18 and older with qualifying medical conditions but many residents ran into roadblocks when they tried to register.

Others said they weren’t being allowed to register because they are under 65, even though they have preexisting conditions.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser blamed the volume of traffic to the website.

D.C. Health apologized on Twitter.

One reader, under 65 in a priority ZIP code, told WTOP that the situation was “absurd.”

“I saw a tweet about high traffic volume but nothing about them bungling the eligibility (requirements). … Idiots,” they said.

A screen capture of what one reader saw when they tried to refresh D.C.’s vaccine registration questionnaire Thursday morning.

The reader said they hit a wall when they tried to refresh the site, “but the main website still lets you click through to the questionnaire as if there are appointments.”

Another reader who is also under 65 in a priority ZIP code said they were able to book an appointment through D.C.’s call center at 855-363-0333 — but was given the wrong address and had to find the correct location through Google Maps.

District resident Mike Gipstein, who also lives in a priority ZIP code, was not so lucky. Unable to get anywhere through the web portal, he tried calling.

“I was also able to get through on the phone and was denied an appointment,” Gipstein said. “I am under 65 but have qualifying underlying conditions. The scheduler on the phone stated she can’t give people appointments to people under 65.”

“I talked with her about the confusion regarding ambiguous emails I received and she stated that other people were also confused from the wording of the email and guidance.”

Shortly after 10 a.m., the D.C. Health Department tweeted that all online appointments had been booked.

“We know this morning was very frustrating for many people. We are working with Microsoft to understand why heavy traffic caused some eligible individuals to not get through,” the agency tweeted.

Cielo Contreras, who said she was on D.C.’s list of newly eligible residents, told WTOP’s Megan Cloherty that she was excited to be able to register because she’s pregnant, and her doctor had warned her about the dangers of COVID-19 for pregnant women, but couldn’t through the website.

She said she started refreshing the website a little before 9 a.m.

“And then the thing popped up to fill out the questionnaire. And I did a lot of refreshing, it kept crashing,” she said. “So I would click on something, it would say, this is not available, I’d have to refresh or go back. So it took … a lot of steps just to fill out the form.”

Contreras called the experience frustrating because D.C. “didn’t flip the switch or do whatever on the back end of the website that allowed people in this new category to actually register.”

“Is it this hard?” she said, adding, “I think that there needs to be a better way to let people know, ‘OK, you didn’t get it this time.'”

The D.C. Council tweeted its apologies to residents and said there was “no excuse for the vaccine appointment system not allowing those under age 65 with preexisting medical conditions to sign up for appointments.”

Ward 7 D.C. Council member Vincent Gray slammed the botched registration on Twitter, calling it “unacceptable.”

“I am abundantly concerned about how this impacted everyone trying to sign-up for a vaccination appointment,” he wrote. “I spoke with Dr. (LaQuandra) Nesbitt, and she too, expressed her concern for the issues residents experienced this morning.”

Ward 6 D.C. Council member Charles Allen’s office said they “will amplify all updates this afternoon ahead of tomorrow’s citywide release.”

On its coronavirus vaccine registration website, D.C. Health said it “will make approximately 4,350 additional appointments available” for eligible residents at 9 a.m. Friday.

According to the site, the priority zip codes are focused in Wards 5, 7 and 8 and include the ZIP codes: 20422, 20011, 20017, 20018, 20002, 20001, 20019, 20020, 20032, 20593.

“Hopefully DC will fix by Friday morning the website restriction on those with preexisting medical conditions. Maybe DC should limit Friday to DC RESIDENTS ONLY since today was so messed up,” another reader wrote in an email to WTOP.

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.

Fonda Mwangi

Fonda Mwangi is a Associate Producer at WTOP. Before joining WTOP she was an investigative intern at WJLA. She also wrote for student magazine, Envision, covering finances for college students. Fonda got her Masters in Journalism and Public Affairs from American University.

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