Most Bumpy Launch Yet: Portland-Area Seniors Have Big Trouble Signing Up for COVID Vaccine Appointments Monday

Many Portland-area seniors age 70 and older encountered a very slow-moving website and major flaws Monday when they tried unsuccessfully to schedule COVID-19 vaccination appointments at one of the area’s two mass vaccination sites.

Some elderly residents reported that the programming pages took anywhere from a few minutes to more than half an hour to load. And when they got to those pages and clicked on the available appointment times, they were told that the appointments were already taken. That meant they would have to start the slow process of reloading pages and start the booking process all over again.

All available online appointments for the Oregon Convention Center and Portland International Airport Drive-in Clinic were taken well within the first hour, frustrating seniors who in some cases brought complaints directly to the state legislators.

Tamara Hargens-Bradley, a spokeswoman for vaccination sites, acknowledged several challenges on Monday, including a bug that allowed people to book appointments in advance and left others empty-handed.

The “appointment scheduling tools did not fail this morning; however, they slowed down as they approached maximum capacity – 4,800 concurrent users each, ”he said in an email Monday afternoon.

Hargens-Bradley said the technicians “have arrangements either in place or in the works to improve site stability and future user experience” on days when appointments are open to book in the future.

Healthcare providers operating Portland-area mass vaccination sites said late last week that 2,400 appointments would be available at the airport and 4,900 at the Convention Center beginning at 9 a.m. Monday for seniors and members of phase 1a, which mainly includes health workers.

But the Oregonians who connected early were rewarded, and those who didn’t stay out.

Hargens-Bradley said the Oregon Health and Science University website mistakenly opened the 2,400 airport appointments for booking at 8:45 a.m. All appointments ended at 9:20 am, if not earlier.

“OHSU apologizes for the error and has taken steps to ensure appointments are posted at 9 am on Mondays and Thursdays, as scheduled,” said Hargens-Bradley.

The two mass vaccination sites are operated through a joint effort of OHSU, Legacy Health, Kaiser Permanente, and Providence Health & Services.

Rep. Maxine Dexter, a Portland Democrat and MD, led a legislative meeting Monday to explore how to improve the implementation of vaccination in Oregon.

“Today was a challenging day for Oregon seniors who had access to the Internet and even more difficult for those who do not have it and who are in their 70s,” Dexter said at the beginning of the meeting. “The sites were confusing, the systems were lagging and the phone lines were overwhelmed. Today I have news from many of you. “

This was the fifth morning the two sites opened appointments to book since people over the age of 80 became eligible on February 8. Monday was the first day residents age 70 and older were given the green light to try to schedule appointments, and that created a colossal traffic jam.

The demand far exceeds the supply. The number of Portland-area seniors who are competing for dating is unclear, but statewide about 300,000 Oregon seniors were eligible as of Monday and the group grew to about 212,000 with the inclusion of people from 70 to 74 years.

Each week, the competition for appointments grows fiercer. It’s expected to escalate further when more than 255,000 seniors ages 65 to 69 are eligible next Monday.

As of last week, state officials said 146,000 Oregonians 65 and older, many of whom live in congregated settings and are already eligible, had received at least one injection.

Bill Edwards, 74, said he tried three times to book an appointment online Monday, but every time he tried to schedule the next web page it would not load.

“I did that three times and it gave up,” said Edwards, who lives in unincorporated Washington County. He checked the pharmacies in the area and called 211, but again found nothing, he said.

He plans to connect again on Thursday, next Monday, and so on until he gets a date.

“If I had an appointment in a month, it would be fine,” Edwards said. But he knows that next week, the group will only grow and his chances will diminish.

“It’s like pouring more water into a little funnel,” he said.

State public health officials have said that based on the federal government’s recent vaccine shipment allocations, they expect 75% of Oregonians 65 and older to have been able to receive a first dose by early April. They estimate that 75% will have been able to receive a second dose in early May.

Stephanie Hooper, representing the nonprofit group Age +, which advocates for older people, testified before the legislative committee on Monday. He referenced the low state of Oregon in administering vaccines to seniors, the third since the last, according to an analysis by The Oregonian / OregonLive last week.

He offered a list of suggestions for improvement. That includes fixing the problems created by opening eligibility so quickly to new groups of seniors each week before previous age groups have had a chance to schedule. Hooper said the state should “stop” seniors under the age of 75 from scheduling appointments until seniors have access to vaccines.

But Hooper expressed little hope that the state would listen.

“Honestly, we and other advocates for older adults have stepped up to help and warn officials about these potential challenges since the beginning of the pandemic,” Hooper said, “yet virtually none of our suggestions have been implemented. “.

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– Aimee Green; [email protected]; @o_aimee

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