Seniors snap up vaccine appointments in LA County as website, hotline are jammed – Daily News | #television | #elderly | #movies
Scores of Los Angeles County residents 65 and older scrambled to secure much-coveted appointments on Wednesday, Jan. 20, for coronavirus vaccinations after county officials declared them eligible on Tuesday.
The county’s vaccinatelacounty.com website posted a notice Wednesday alerting people that remaining appointments at county vaccination sites were “extremely limited.” And the county’s vaccine hotline, 833-540-0473, warned of long wait times and technical issues.
“While we are continuing to work with our state partners to improve the functionality of the website, we ask for the public’s patience as we build capacity and supply,” the notice states. “We may add additional appointments later this week and additional slots may open if people cancel their appointments.”
County Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda Solis said Wednesday that she recognized many residents eligible for vaccines had a difficult time scheduling appointments, blaming glitches to the website on a statewide system. As the county worked to increase capacity, Solis urged “patience and persistence.”
“Our County of Los Angeles team continues to work with our State partners to improve the functionality of the website, as well as increase capacity in our call center,” Solis wrote in a statement. ” In the coming weeks, we will open more vaccination sites and more slots to make appointments, so our residents can get vaccinated in their communities and with ease.”
Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer apologized Wednesday to county residents that experienced frustrations, saying officials would unveil a new on-line appointment system next week. Ferrer largely blamed the problems on a shortage of vaccines.
“Given the very limited supply of doses coming into our county, the biggest challenges we face are not over process but over supply,” Ferrer said. “How soon you will get a vaccination depends on the number of doses we receive each week.”
The county has been receiving roughly 145,000 doses per week, a pace she called too slow. After incorporating for second doses, there will be very few appointments for first dose recipients next week, she said. Currently the county receives notice from the state about a week before doses arrived. But Ferrer said she was hopeful that a new White House administration could speed up the process.
“We are very sorry for those who experienced problems yesterday with an overwhelmed registration system and call center,” Ferrer said. “Available appointments filled quickly. Please keep checking our website as there may be cancellations.”
The county has expanded the capacity of its call-in reservation system, which is available from 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., a statement said. Officials, however, urged residents to use the call system only if they are unable to make appointments through the website.
By Tuesday morning, most of the appointments available at VaccinateLACounty.com were displayed as full.
Other vaccine sites, including one run by the L.A. City Fire Department, showed they were open only to inform residents that appointments were all taken.
Appointments were also largely full at pharmacies run by Vons, Albertsons and Ralphs. Officials were also telling residents to ignore a warning that vaccines were only available for those in group Phase 1A as seniors were now included in that group.
As of midday Wednesday, the online system showed some available vaccination times this week at a handful of sites, but appointments were fully booked at the county’s newly opened vaccine site at the Pomona Fairplex. The site at the Forum in Inglewood showed appointments available on Thursday, while Cal State Northridge had availability Wednesday and Thursday. They likely would not last long, however.
Some complained that now-defunct language remained on the county’s web pages, including warnings that appointments were just for healthcare workers. Social posts indicated some vaccine-seekers simply ignored the language and successfully pushed on to secure slots. Much of that language appeared to be cleaned up by Wednesday.
Appointments beyond this week remain murky, given uncertainty about the county’s supply of vaccine doses. Ferrer said Tuesday the county was receiving 168,000 doses of vaccine this week, but there was no word on how many the county might receive beyond that.
Some county residents said they were unable to make appointments online early Wednesday or were cut off after hearing a recorded message on the phone hotline. It was unclear if technical issues or a crush of eager seniors was to blame — or both.
The hotline appeared to be working, however, by mid-day Wednesday, though a message warned of long wait times because of high caller volume. Callers were given the option of being called back, too, to avoid the wait time. The message also warned of technical problems on the vaccination website, VaccinateLACounty.com and cautioned that crews were working to “fix the issues in real time.”
The website and hotline problems appeared to be at least partly the result of issues with the statewide vaccine-registration system. Officials said the site was restored within several hours on Tuesday.
L.A. County officials said in a statement via Twitter late Monday that thousands of individuals were able to schedule appointments but that no more were available at that time. The county was, however, likely to add additional appointments later this week, the message said.
“While we are continuing to work with our state partners to improve the functionality of the website, we ask for the public’s patience as we build capacity and supply,” the statement said.
Given the county’s severely limited supply of vaccines, the crush of vaccine-seekers was not unexpected.
So far, the county has administered roughly 70% of 685,075 doses. The county was expected to receive 168,575 doses on Wednesday and Thursday, including second doses for those vaccinated at the end of December. But that only leaves enough vaccines for about the remainder of the week, officials said.
Some seniors were set back by confusing language or website glitches, according to Supervisor Janice Hahn who reported the issues on Twitter shortly after 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Hearing from a lot of frustrated residents who are having trouble signing up for vaccines online either because of confusing language or website glitches. The CalVax website is down. Our Public Health Dept’s tech team is working with the state to fix these issues.
— Janice Hahn (@SupJaniceHahn) January 20, 2021
“Hearing a lot of frustrated residents who are having trouble signing up for vaccines online either because of confusing language or website glitches,” Hahn wrote. “The CalVax website is down. Our Public Health Dept’s tech team is working with the state to fix the issues.”
Hahn called the technical issues “unacceptable.”
“We need to vaccinate the people most at risk to this virus as quickly as possible and that is why our team is working around the clock to fix some of these early glitches.”
Others who called the hotline had problems of their own. Art Preston from Baldwin Hills said Wednesday that he doesn’t have a computer, he said, so he had tried to make an appointment over the phone since Monday afternoon.
“The line just goes dead and they hang up on me,” he said. Preston, 78 , said he’s mostly healthy and is eager to get the vaccine. “I’m more afraid of the virus than the vaccine. I’d rather have the vaccine in me.”
The quick change in course this week to allow seniors to receive vaccines — before the county finishes inoculating healthcare workers and residents at long-term care facilities — spurred an avalanche of calls and questions from people anxious to receive much-needed protection from a virus that has so far killed more than 14,000 people in L.A. County and more than 400,000 nationally.
The vast majority of those individuals appeared to be seniors, and there are roughly 1.3 million residents in L.A. County 65 and older.
The sluggish rollout of the vaccine locally is ultimately dependent on supplies issued by the federal government and then the state, local officials said.
Fueling the frustration: Media reports and social posts about individuals receiving the vaccine who were not in the prioritized categories.
Some vaccine-seekers appeared to get their shots without appointments even though officials have said they are strictly required. But when people do not show up for appointments and there are unused vaccines, it’s unclear how those should be distributed.
One nurse who administered vaccines at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday afternoon put out a call on her personal Facebook page for those 65 and older to come to the site without the need for an appointment. The woman, who did not want her name used because she is not authorized to speak with the press, said the site had extra vaccines and crews were not that busy and didn’t want them to go to waste. Only healthcare workers at the site were aware of this and not the general public, she said.
A representative for the L.A. Mayor’s office, which speaks for operations at the stadium site, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter.
Thousands of individuals were nevertheless able to schedule vaccination appointments and at this time there are no more appointment slots available at County sites. 2/6
— Los Angeles County (@CountyofLA) January 20, 2021
In Pasadena, where the city-run health department opened vaccines to those 75 and older beginning Monday, appointments were booked quickly for the remainder of the week. The city will continue to vaccinate seniors outside of elder-care facilities when it wraps up some of the last medical worker inoculations on Thursday, Jan. 21.
Officials said there were 11,000 seniors who qualified for this round of vaccinations, but fewer than 2,000 would get their first doses this week. Like other health departments in the region, Pasadena has more capacity than doses, and officials are anxiously waiting to receive more.
Dr. Ying-Yong Goh, who leads the city’s health department said significant changes would be coming next week from the state.
“We received notification from the state this morning that they’re reworking the stages and tiers,” Goh said.
In Long Beach, which also runs its own health department, officials opened a mass vaccination site at the Convention Center Tuesday where it will eventually administer roughly 3,000 doses daily. Seniors 65 and older began to receive vaccines beginning Saturday, Jan. 16, by appointment only. Additional appointments have gone fast with the mayor pledging to offer more as vaccines become more availability.
While there was some confusion around when and where people should show up at the Convention Center, Mayor Robert Garcia said he was proud of the city’s efforts so far having administered more than 21,000 shots as of Tuesday.
“We are the furthest ahead of any other major city in California in getting out the vaccine,” Garcia said. “We have been working really hard on this.”
City News Service and reporters Bradley Bermont and Rich Archbold contributed to this story.