Mass. COVID-19 vaccination site broke after state expanded access

An error message like this one popped onto the screens of thousands of visitors to Massachusetts' COVID-19 vaccine registration website Thursday. (Scoop News Group)

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A website in Massachusetts that allows residents to register for COVID-19 vaccines crashed Thursday morning when thousands of users flooded the portal at once, resulting in mass frustration.

The state announced Thursday evening that its web vendor, PrepMod, had fixed the problem. “The system did not scale fast enough to accommodate the increased volume,” read an apology from the company.

“As the state’s biggest online appointment vendor, we deeply regret what happened in Massachusetts and are committed to ensuring this does not happen again,” its statement read. “As public health servants and your partner, we are sorry for not meeting expectations. We accept full responsibility for the problem.”

PrepMod is used by many other state and local governments around the country, including in its home state of Maryland, as well as California, Idaho, Pennsylvania and Los Angeles County.

The mistake frustrated many Bay Staters who’d been cleared on Wednesday for Massachusetts’ second phase of vaccine registration — including people 65 and over, residents and staff of affordable senior housing and people with two or more compromising medical conditions. They would compete for a “very limited” supply of the vaccine, Gov. Charlie Baker tweeted on Wednesday.

But if the public was frustrated, Baker said he was furious.

“My hair’s on fire about the whole thing. I cannot even begin to tell you how pissed off I am,” Baker told Boston Public Radio. “This is not satisfactory. … It’s awful. It’s going to get fixed and I’m going to work very hard to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

The state’s COVID-19 Command Center apologized on Thursday evening for the delays, also noting that despite its system’s glitches, 60,000 people managed to book vaccination appointments for the week. Those 60,000 appointment slots may be supplemented by “a small number” of additional appointments over the next few days, the state said.

“Currently, approximately one million residents are now eligible and because supply is still severely limited by the federal government, it is expected to take at least a month for residents to book appointments,” an official statement read.

Local news outlets published accounts of frustrated residents who tried dozens of times to get through the online process, only to be met by an error screen. Many continue to be frustrated by the state’s technological offerings, like Boston real estate agent Liz Slattery, who responded on Twitter Friday to the state’s apology.

“Does this mean I have to spend 10 hours a day trying to book an appointment for the next month?” she wrote. “This is pathetic, why can’t future appointments be made?”

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COVID-19, Gov. Charlie Baker, Massachusetts, PrepMod, vaccine registration, website crash
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