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As Those Over 75 Become Eligible For Vaccines, Mass. Residents Describe A 'Frustratingly Impossible' Sign-Up System04:12
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A notice on the state's COVID-19 vaccination website on Wednesday, Jan. 27, alerts users that appointments are limited. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
A notice on the state's COVID-19 vaccination website on Wednesday, Jan. 27, alerts users that appointments are limited. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Massachusetts residents ages 75 and older may now make an appointment to get a COVID-19 vaccination. But trying to sign up for the shot hasn't been easy, according to some of the people who have tried to use the state's website to book a slot.

WBUR asked residents to share their experiences signing up for a vaccine appointment. In emailed responses, more than a dozen described a confusing online sign-up system, a lack of available appointments, and frustration at the slow vaccine rollout.

"I knew it would be a pain, and it is," wrote Elaine Solomon to WBUR. She said she got up very early on Wednesday to try and book an appointment at several sites, including Wegman's in Northborough, CVS stores in Wayland and Newton, and UMass in Worcester, but had no luck.

Eligible residents could start scheduling appointments as of midnight Wednesday for shots being administered starting Monday, Feb. 1. Clinics have been established at more than 80 sites around the state, from mass vaccination sites like Gillette Stadium to local pharmacies and supermarkets.

Alan Levitan, 85, described his experience trying to sign up as "frustratingly impossible." He said he encountered sign-ups that did not permit people included in phase two of the vaccine rollout, and instructions would tell you to click on buttons that are not there.

Brian Moody was trying to make an appointment for his 96-year-old mother, who doesn't have internet access. He said that, when trying to book an appointment, every location on the state's website only had slots available for those eligible in phase one.

"This is not a user friendly solution and it lacks coordination," he wrote to WBUR. "I was a computer professional for over 33 years, and am appalled that the State cannot do a better job than this!"

After waiting for 90 minutes in an online queue for the Stop and Shop vaccination site, and after seeing no availability at Walgreens where she pre-registered, Maureen Boisvert told WBUR she was successful in making two appointments for 85- and 91-year-old family members in Pittsfield. However, she says she was surprised that she had to input health insurance information to make the appointment.

"I was ultimately successful but setting expectations and laying out instructions in advance would make life so much easier for everyone!"

Beverly resident Paul Earl also reported success getting an appointment at Beverly Pediatrics, after calling perhaps 50 times over the course of more than five hours. "My perseverance finally paid off and the person who answered was very pleasant and efficient, and booked me for my first vaccine shot in 2 1/2 weeks," he wrote. "We hear so many horror shows that I just wanted to pass on a reasonably good experience - especially given the circumstances."

State Sen. Harriette Chandler, representing the 1st Worcester District, tweeted her dismay with the state's sign-up site.

In a press conference on Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker described a simple sign-up process.

"You can go on the website, determine if you're eligible on the site, find a location that's providing vaccinations that's convenient to you," he said. "Click on it, make an appointment."

A reporter attending the press conference asked if there were plans to streamline the process, and Baker responded: "How much more streamlined would you like it to be than that?"

In response to a similar question on Wednesday, Baker responded that the biggest challenge Massachusetts is going to face with the vaccine rollout is not getting enough supply from the federal government.

Baker said he anticipated "there will be a large number of residents trying to secure a limited number of appointments" as the vaccine plan's second phase begins next week, and urged those who cannot secure a time slot to "be patient" and continue to check the website.

Earlier this week, the Biden administration announced plans to expand vaccine shipments, though Baker cautioned that it's still unclear how that would affect Massachusetts.

"I'm hoping by tomorrow, certainly by Friday, we'll know what the answer to that is," Baker added. "I heard the same 17 percent number, but they made very clear to us: don't just assume that means you're going to get 17 percent (more) of what you have."

On Wednesday afternoon, the state's vaccine sign-up page had a notice that read: "Due to high demand and constrained vaccine supply, COVID-19 Vaccination appointments are limited. More appointments will be available based on supply from the Federal Government."

When a WBUR reporter tried signing up for a vaccine on Wednesday, they found varied success. The MA Immunizations website showed a number of vaccination appointments at locations including Gillette Stadium. At more than a dozen vaccination sites in Greater Boston, you had to click through a number of fields before learning no appointments were available. There did not seem to be a way to check if appointments were available geographically rather than by site. For CVS appointments, for example, you have to type in a town name or zip code to check the availability at each store.

Once vaccinations are completed for residents 75 and older, those who are older than 65 and those with two chronic illnesses or medical conditions will be eligible to make appointments.

With reporting by WBUR's Carey Goldberg, The Associated Press and State House News Service.

This segment aired on January 27, 2021.

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