Editor's Note: On Friday, March 12, the state launched a preregistration system for residents to sign up for vaccine appointments. The hope is that it will be easier to book appointments at the state's mass vaccination sites. Get the latest vaccine distribution updates and news here.
Traducido en español por El Planeta Media.
It's no secret that the vaccination sign-up process for Massachusetts residents who are 75 or older has been quite a headache for many.
On Wednesday, WBUR asked readers and listeners to share their experiences signing up for an appointment, and many emailed us back (and the emails keep rolling in), describing a confusing online sign-up system, a lack of available appointments, and frustration at the slow vaccine rollout.
Gov. Charlie Baker acknowledged the bumpy start during a press conference Thursday afternoon, and offered some new information for eligible people trying to lock down appointments. He said the state will be providing more services, including adding a call-in option for those who don't have access to the internet. More information on that is expected to come next week.
In the meantime, Thursdays may be the best day to look for new openings at large sites. Baker said that's when the state will update its vaccination appointments each week. The number of new appointments will be based on the overall vaccine supply Massachusetts gets from the federal government, which is expected to vary. Baker said there are currently about a million people eligible to get vaccinated.
In the past two days, 45,000 people have made appointments for their first doses.
"At 100,000 new doses a week, you can do the math and figure out that might mean it will take a little while for you to have the opportunity to get your first vaccination," he said.
Baker urged residents to have patience and to continue to come back to the state website to check for appointments at mass vaccination sites on Thursdays. For smaller vaccine operations (think local pharmacies), he recommended checking every day.
Even amid the flood of frustration, some of our readers and listeners had some luck in landing a time slot for their first shot. Here are their tips and words of wisdom on the process.
1. Keep your search preferences broad.
The majority of our readers said you're more likely to have luck making an appointment if you're able to go to sites a little farther from home.
Beth Stonebraker wrote to WBUR:
"I would leave everything blank and just say "Search" and a bunch of stuff would come up. It included MANY places that had no openings, which took me quite a while to figure out (you have to look in the fine print). It also includes a bunch of places that have all kinds of restrictions, like only people who work in the town, or only people needing a second vaccine, or only firefighters (which I signed up for and had to cancel)."
Jen Flynn added:
"I signed up my mother and my mother-in-law yesterday and found it very smooth. I guess the advice I would give is just go in and click a time and date, and you may not be choosy. Click it and continue with the process and just keep moving forward."
Another Mass. resident has more than a tip; she's actually created a tool she says can to help residents find appointments without having to hunt across various third-party providers. Olivia Adams, a developer at Athena Health, said she launched a website that aggregates COVID vaccine appointment availability from various sites across the state, so you can see the number of appointment openings, organized by location, in one place. As of now, it appears to includes appointments from maimmunizations.org, Hannaford (5 locations), UMass Amherst, Springfield (Eastfield Mall), Danvers (Doubletree Hotel) and Arlington (Family Practice Group, PC.) Of note: It's not a state-approved tool, and it's not comprehensive. Adams is working to gather more information from other sources, but said, "I'm a mom of two on maternity leave. If you're interested in helping, visit my personal website to contact me." When asked about Adams and her tool Friday, Baker said, "Send us her name. We'll talk to her."
2. Look at the vaccination sites with large capacities.
Another reader, Stephen Greenbaum, said he booked a spot at Gillette Stadium, which added thousands of appointments in the early hours of Thursday morning. Another mass vaccination site, Fenway Park, has started booking appointments, too. But bear in mind, those slots filled up fast, especially at Fenway.
Fenway is starting out with 500 appointments a day. Gillette Stadium has already ramped up to several thousand a day.
Baker also recommended checking out the state's other two sites: The Eastfield Mall in Springfield and the DoubleTree Hotel in Danvers. Both those locations posted 10,000 appointments on Wednesday (booked within hours), and Thursday they added an additional 15,000 appointments. Baker said there will be seven mass vaccination sites in all, that will be open within the next two weeks.
That said, not everyone has a car or the ability to take the time needed to travel to a vaccination site farther from home. If you're someone with a car, you can help your neighbors by leaving openings at locations that are MBTA accessible.
3. If trying to book through a local pharmacy, create an account (or download the app) first.
Pharmacies are adding new appointment times more frequently than the state, but they have less bandwidth. And each pharmacy has its own system and set of requirements to sign up, which can get a little confusing.
For Walgreens, you have to set up an account online and be pre-screened before you can book an appointment. For CVS, you can sign up for both the initial and second doses at the same time through the CVS Pharmacy app or on CVS.com.
Setting up your account before trying to book the appointment might spare you at least part of the headache. Reader Virginia Wagg also found that midnight is a good time to check the CVS site for newly added time slots.
4. Have your insurance information handy.
To be clear, there is no cost for the coronavirus vaccine, regardless of the brand or where you make your appointment. You are not required to have health insurance in order to have access to one, and if you don't add in insurance information, you're still able to make an appointment for your shot.
However, if you do have insurance, Gov. Baker wants you to use it so the cost of the vaccine is covered by your insurance company rather than the state.
Many readers recommended having your insurance information handy by taking pictures of your cards ahead of time and having them already downloaded on whatever computer you're booking your appointment on. You might want to keep the cards in reach, too, in case you're asked to type in your provider information.
5. Don't forget to fill out your vaccine attestation form.
When you do finally book your appointment, you're not done! You'll need to fill out a vaccine attestation form, and you'll be required to present it at your appointment, as reader Cathy Delano reminded us. Basically, the form is how you show that you were eligible to have made the appointment in the first place.
You can download the PDF to fill out and bring with you, or submit online. (Hint: That button is all the way at the bottom of that page.) If you go the latter route, you'll present your confirmation email on your phone at your appointment.
Another important note: People 75 and older do not need a certification code when scheduling appointments. Certification codes were originally required to verify the first-responder status of people receiving vaccines under phase one protocols, and in some cases that guidance has not yet been updated to reflect the changes under phase two.
6. And a final tip, from WBUR's newsroom: Beware of COVID-19 vaccine scam websites.
Even before signups opened for seniors, scammer sites started popping up. To protect yourself, here are some things to look out for:
- Pay attention to the address bar. If you see the "s" dropped from the web address https://www.maimmunizations.org/, then it is not the correct site. Another clue that a website may be a scam is if it uses http:// instead of https:/
- You will not be asked to make a payment or for your social security information during the sign up process, even if there are claims to give you early access.
- What you could be asked to present at your appointment and when you sign up: insurance information (though the vaccine is free) as well as identification (such an employer or government-issued ID or a recent paystub) and your attestation form. That's it.
Additional reporting by Khari Thompson.