Massachusetts residents told they could wait hours or days to schedule COVID-19 vaccine appointment

Nearly 50,000 appointments were filled in 90 minutes Thursday morning.

February 25, 2021, 6:01 PM

Nearly 50,000 COVID-19 vaccine appointments in Massachusetts were snatched up in 90 minutes Thursday morning, as residents were told they could be waiting hours, or even days, to schedule one of the limited slots.

Massachusetts releases appointments every Thursday for one of its seven mass vaccination sites, including Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium.

People are given COVID-19 vaccinations, center, as doses of COVID-19 vaccine are loaded into syringes at a counter, below, Feb. 11, 2021, at a vaccination center at Gillette Stadium, in Foxborough, Mass.
Steven Senne/AP, FILE

Registration for the approximately 50,000 appointments at the sites opened at 7 a.m. on the state's vaccine finder website. Shortly before 9:30 a.m., the state warned that they were "nearly all filled," pointing to a "severely limited" vaccine supply and the large number of people eligible to get it.

"If you have not been able to schedule an appointment yet, please try again next week -- it may take several attempts over the course of a few weeks to get an open slot," the state said.

Some placed in a new "digital waiting room" due to high website traffic were told that they could be waiting for hours, or even days. One wait time was as high as 125,255 minutes -- or 87 days -- according to ABC Boston affiliate WCVB-TV.

"It's just been an exercise in futility," Patty Lieber of Boston, who was informed she had 6,866 minutes in the wait line and ultimately wasn't able to make an appointment, told WCVB.

The pace of the vaccine rollout seems to be picking up across the country, though Americans continue to be frustrated by the inability to secure an appointment to be inoculated.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker placed the blame for the rollout frustrations on the state's limited supplies from the federal government and very high demand for appointments.

"I continue to believe that our biggest problem, under any scenario here, is we don't have enough supply to meet demand," Baker said during a press briefing Thursday. "If the feds increase supply, we will increase, gladly, the number of appointments, and people will book those based on the availability of additional appointments. But you can't just magically create 1,000 random appointments."

The state receives about 130,000 first doses of vaccine weekly from the federal government, Baker said.

A week ago, both the state's online directory of vaccine sites and scheduling website for mass vaccination sites crashed due to demand, as about 1 million additional residents became newly eligible for vaccinations. After that, the state worked to improve website capacity and added the digital waiting room to help prevent crashes.

The governor stressed Thursday that the website "weathered a very significant surge of interested people" that morning, but despite the influx of users, there were "no widespread outages."

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker speaks at a mass vaccination site for coronavirus at the Natick Mall, Feb. 24, 2021 in Natick, Mass.
Matt Stone/The Boston Herald via AP

During a virtual oversight hearing Thursday with state lawmakers, Baker said that the state "expect[s] to continue to improve the user experience."

State legislators called the vaccine rollout a "failure" over website concerns.

"My constituents, and all of our constituents, are justifiably asking why the governor of Massachusetts, in the health care and technology capital of the country, cannot figure out how to operate a website," State Sen. Eric Lesser said.

Baker noted during the hearing that Massachusetts has ranked in the "top 10" for vaccines administered for the past three weeks.

As of Wednesday, the state has administered 1.5 million total doses, or 22,249 per 100,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last week, the state expanded eligibility to people ages 65 and up and those who have two or more qualifying medical conditions, including cancer, heart disease, asthma, obesity and pregnancy.

People ages 75 and older, health care workers, first responders, affordable housing staff and residents and those in congregate care and long-term care facilities are also eligible.

Caregivers who accompany residents over the age of 75 to appointments at the state's mass vaccination sites can also receive the vaccine.

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