(By Chaay_Tee_Shutterstock)

By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor

Up until Thursday, Feb. 25, COVID-19 vaccinations were available for Washingtonians 65 and older, frontline workers, educators and government and law enforcement officials— leaving out a largely chunk of the population.  So when the District of Columbia Department of Health announced that residents 18-64 with pre-existing health conditions, and that the next tier of the first phase was beginning on Feb. 25, thousands were ready at 8:59 a.m. to sign up promptly at 9 a.m., except there was one issue- the portal was not functioning properly.

As a member of the next priority group, this reporter was one of the many Washingtonians working hard to get through vaccinate.dc.gov, to no avail.  The anxiety was already high because there are so few appointments available and a high demand.  I spent about an hour trying to exhaust options from the D.C. call center to each electronic I had available, but had no luck.  Further, the information that was clear on the website was not fully updated, making the process even harder.

Adding to the frustration was the heightened anxiety surrounding the two days a week Washingtonians were able to make reservations- Thursday and Friday at 9 a.m..

Eventually I took to the Twitterverse to see if anyone else was having difficulty. They were.

“Loads of D.C. residents aged [18]-64 with pre-existing medical conditions who were told they could register for COVID-19 vaccine appointments now are facing busy phone lines and a website that crashes and also wasn’t updated to reflect the new categories of people who are eligible,” wrote WAMU reporter and editor Martin Austermule on Twitter. 

Former D.C. Mayor and current Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray (D) weighed in on the technical challenges.

“The technical problems experienced today were unacceptable.  I am abundantly concerned about how this impacted everyone trying to sign-up for a vaccination appointment,” Gray tweeted.  “I spoke with Dr. Nesbitt (the DC Health Director), and she too, expressed her concern for the issues residents experienced this morning.”

At 1:23 p.m. that same day, DC Health sent an update and apology for the morning inconvenience.

“We apologize for the issues with the vaccination portal this morning. The District’s COVID-19 vaccination appointment portal did not perform as expected due to a technical review failure that resulted in eligible residents with a qualifying medical condition being unable to register. As the IT team worked to stabilize the website due to heavy traffic, there were delays in finding and fixing the issue with the eligibility criteria,” DC Health wrote.

“We know how stressful of a time this is, and we regret that this unfortunate situation occurred on a day when many of our residents with chronic health conditions were newly eligible for vaccination appointments. The technical review failure has now been addressed, and with tens of thousands of residents newly eligible for the vaccine this week, we are currently working with Microsoft in anticipation of extremely high traffic during future appointment releases,” the organization added.

Council member Gray later took to social media to further explain how the technical issues arose.

“Dr. Nesbitt has informed that OCTO/ Microsoft technical issues that prevented individuals between the ages of 18-64 in high-risk zip codes from registering today have been resolved.  Some of the challenges were related to high user volume, but Dr. Nesbitt confirmed that some of the technical glitches were in fact due to system configurations deficiencies, which should have been detected during technical review.”

As a means to make up for the major error and give Washingtonians another chance to register, DC Health offered an additional day of vaccine registration.

“We are also adding a registration session on Saturday, February 27 at 9:00 a.m., for eligible residents with qualifying medical conditions in priority zip codes. There will be 3,500 appointments available,” DC Health wrote.

At-large Council member Elissa Silverman (I) said she was happy the District apologized for the faulty website and added the additional day, but critiqued the rhetoric used to amend the original faux pas.

‘Instead of a ‘technical review failure’ or ‘glitch,’ let’s say the website didn’t work as it should have,” she wrote on Twitter.  “Then we need to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

However, when this reporter tried again on Friday, Feb. 26, there were still major technical challenges.  After about 20 minutes I finally got through the vaccinate.dc.gov website.  As soon as I got to the point of scheduling an appointment the website would not allow me to press “select,” for appointment times.  

Other Washingtonians ran into similar issues.

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser, whose sister died from complication from the novel coronavirus on Feb. 24, explained that the demand is high.

“Currently demand for the vaccine in D.C. is much higher than the supply we are receiving from the federal government.”


Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor