Widespread Frustration As Massachusetts Vaccine Scheduling Site Crashes

Governor Baker announces new post-Christmas COVID-19 restrictions for Massachusetts on Tuesday December 22, 2020. Photo: mass.gov

Governor Baker Under Fire For Vaccine Rollout

Most of the more than one million people newly eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Massachusetts encountered failure and frustration on Thursday as the State’s centralized vaccine scheduling site https://www.mass.gov/covid-19-vaccine crashed throughout the day.
Today (2/18) was the first day that people over age 65 and people of any age with two or more specified co-morbidities were eligible to schedule appointments.

Complaints, rage, and frustration were plentiful on social media. Several people claimed to have kept refreshing their browsers all day, only to come up empty handed. And this left many wondering if there was some trick to gaining access to available appointments. One veteran of successful on-line concert ticket purchases claimed on Facebook that they had never encountered such a poorly designed site. 

Apparently, many people had the same experience as this writer. I spent the better part of the day trying to schedule an appointment, working from multiple windows and refreshing continuously, attempting to connect to any available appointment posted anywhere in the state. Frequently a batch of new appointments would appear as available and then almost instantaneously disappear. The site also has the annoying feature of listing an available time and then requiring the user to fill out a brief checklist before allowing them to proceed with registration. But after completing the checklist the user is informed that appointments at that time are no longer available. I managed to get past that obstacle five times and begin to fill out the registration information for a specific appointment, only to have the site crash before I could complete that process.

State Representative Mindy Domb reports in a letter to her constituents sent Thursday night (2/18), that according to Mary Lou Sudders, Secretary of the Executive Office of Human and Health Services, that before this week, the vaxfinder.mass.gov website handled 400,000 visits per hour. However, following the announcement of opening appointments on Thursday to Phase 2, group 2, individuals (people 65+ and those with two underlying health conditions), an additional 1 million people became eligible to get vaccinated. At 8 AM on Thursday there were 1.9 million visits to the website in less than 30 minutes. State officials think this is what caused the website to crash.

The Mass Vaxfinder site states that about half of appointments that become available will be at the major Mass Vax sites like Gillette Stadium and Fenway Park. The only Mass Vax site in Western Massachusetts is the Eastfield Mall in Springfield, which has over 13,000 new appointments scheduled to come on line before the end of the month. 

Governor Charlie Baker said in an interview on WGBH radio
“My hair’s on fire about the whole thing. I can’t begin to tell you how pissed off I am. …It’s awful and it’s going to get fixed and I’m going to work very hard to make sure it never happens again.” Baker said that while 70,000 doses are currently available in Massachusetts, only 21,000 appointments were filled today. Domb reported that the site was working as of Thursday evening but as of 7 AM on Friday  (2/19) there were no appointments available anywhere in Massachusetts. Neither the Mass Vaxfinder site nor Baker indicated precisely when new postings will be available. Domb suggested that the State would be releasing more appointments some time on Friday. Baker also warned that the State is currently only receiving about 100,000 does per week and at that rate it may take a month to get the currently eligible group scheduled.  

Baker has been under fire over the State’s vaccine rollout, facing criticism from the State’s congressional delegation, state lawmakers and communities of color  (see here and here).

For a guide on how to better navigate vaccine appointment sites, look here.

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