D.C. vaccine portal crashes for second day in a row

Washington D.C.'s COVID-19 Vaccination Appointment website displays a message that no appointments are available. (Scoop News Group)

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Despite Washington, D.C., health officials saying Thursday that fixes had been made to a COVID-19 vaccine registration portal that left people struggling to schedule appointments, the challenges returned Friday morning, frustrating tens of thousands of residents who tried to log on.

The District made available 4,350 vaccine appointments at 9 a.m. for residents with qualifying medical conditions or occupations, but the city government’s vaccine portal was quick to fail on most of the roughly 36,000 people who raced to book a vaccine.

Some residents struggled to get past a CAPTCHA verification, despite entering the correct phrases, while others were met with a prompt to log into the city’s government Office365 platform. These malfunctions came despite the city’s statement Thursday that it had worked with Microsoft to correct a “technical review failure” and that its systems were functioning correctly.

At a D.C. Council hearing after Friday’s website mishaps, City Administrator Kevin Donohue told local lawmakers that Thursday’s errors were due to a coding error that didn’t update the eligibility criteria for people who could make vaccine appointments, while Friday’s failures were due to the site not being able to handle a higher amount of traffic as the city attempted to open the site to all residents with qualifying jobs or health conditions. (Thursday’s appointments were reserved for residents in neighborhoods with higher rates of coronavirus infections.)

“Yesterday’s [issue] was an error in the code and that should not have happened,” Donahue during the Friday hearing. “Today, the system was operating more slowly than one might expect a typical internet site to operate, but it’s because we had tens of thousands of people who, when it wasn’t quick would hit refresh, refresh, refresh.”

Regardless of the system’s failures for many D.C. residents, Mayor Muriel Bowser tweeted at 9:30 a.m. that all 4,350 vaccine appointments made available a half-hour prior had been filled, noting that the city is experiencing a much higher demand for vaccines than the supply provided to them by the federal government. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though, D.C. has only administered at least one shot to 11% of its residents, a lower rate than every state and U.S. territory other than Puerto Rico and Micronesia.

The city plans to switch to a new preregistration process next month, during which smaller groups of eligible residents will be notified by the city that they can sign up for a vaccine appointment.

“What we are doing is we’re creating equity in the process,” D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt said of the forthcoming changes in a press conference earlier this month.

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COVID-19, vaccines, Washington D.C.
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