Days before the scheduled launch of a preregistration system for making COVID-19 vaccination appointments — and amid a continued glitch-plagued process for securing the shots — D.C. has selected Microsoft as the vendor to host its new system.
The mayor’s office confirmed to WTOP on Friday the selection of Microsoft to host the vaccination portal.
News of the Microsoft pick came the same morning the District’s current appointment portal, which is also hosted by Microsoft, was once again marred by technical issues.
A statement from the D.C. Office of the Chief Technology Officer said Friday’s technical issues stemmed from a six-minute delay in activating the vaccination portal “because traffic was 3x higher than last Friday’s peak.”
Last week, technical issues and sky-high demand also snarled D.C.’s vaccine appointment process three days in a row. The process appeared to be smoother on Thursday.
Regarding Friday’s issues, the statement said: “Once the site was able to be activated at 9:06 a.m., residents were routed to the Microsoft vaccine scheduling application which functioned as expected.”
Within 10 minutes, more than 4,500 vaccination appointments were made, the agency said.
“We continue to develop and test a pre-registration portal with Microsoft to alleviate the traffic issue … However, the demand will remain high, and we will continue to advocate for more vaccine,” the agency said in the statement.
Friday was the last day the District used its current method of specifying which groups of residents are eligible to receive a vaccine on a particular day. The eligible groups change daily, and often include priority ZIP codes to attempt to get vaccinations to people who need them most.
Coming switch to preregistration system
The coming switch to a preregistration portal was announced by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser earlier this week, following outrage and frustration by District residents and lawmakers about the chaotic rollout.
D.C. Council member Charles Allen, who represents Ward 6, told WTOP the continued glitches Friday — although they appeared to be less pervasive than last week — point to the need to move to the preregistration system.
“The headaches of having this weekly competition where the website and call center have, frankly, just been unreliable just makes the case why we’ve got to move to this preregistration system just as quickly as possible,” he said.
Allen said the council members would continue delving into the issues with the vaccine portal, as well as how the new system will work.
“I think residents want to hear not just what went wrong, and where’s the accountability, but they also want to know, what’s the new system? How’s it going to work? Can I count on it? And ultimately, how do I make sure I can get the vaccine that I need, and that I want.”
Bowser’s office was asked whether there’s any talk of firing anyone over the registration problems. Chief of Staff John Falcicchio said, “We have a demand issue, which is double-edged: People want the vaccine and that’s a good thing, but the supply and thus far the technology are not meeting the demand and that’s a bad thing. The team is advocating for more vaccine and working tirelessly to address the technology need. D.C. needs more vaccine.”
Concern from lawmakers
However, as recently as Thursday evening, D.C. officials said a vendor had not yet been selected to run the site.
During a D.C. Council oversight hearing for the Committee on Health, assistant city administrator Jay Melder said the city had asked both Microsoft and Accenture to work up solutions, but hadn’t made a decision yet.
D.C. lawmakers have also raised other concerns about the switch to the preregistration system.
At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman expressed concern about the transparency and equity of the new system. In the oversight hearing, health officials said the agency will continue to have the ability to tailor which groups are eligible, based on need, accessibility, and vaccine supply.
“I thought it would go by tier, we’d start with whoever’s in 1a, then 1b, to 1c, then randomize in the last tier,” Silverman said.
She expressed concern the site would not provide transparency about D.C. Health’s decisions on who is eligible to receive a vaccination, and where the residents live.
“That gives the impression that this ward or neighborhood’s not going to get appointments. I’m worried it causes divisiveness. And the last thing we need in this city is that, over such an important health issue.”
Health officials said they have always been committed to transparency, and the agency will provide weekly documentation about groups deemed eligible.
WTOP’s Megan Cloherty and Ken Duffy contributed to this report.
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