Lawmakers, experts and residents continued to criticize Massachusetts' vaccination rollout, Thursday, calling on the Baker administration to fix what they call a cumbersome and confusing sign-up process.
On Thursday, state Sen. Eric Lesser filed legislation that would direct the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to immediately create a one-stop online sign-up for vaccinations accessible from desktop computer as well as mobile devices; as well as a phone hotline immediately be established in multiple languages.
“The Phase 2 vaccine rollout is creating mass confusion and anxiety for our eligible senior population," Lesser said. "The system is cumbersome, contradictory, and asks residents over 75 to navigate a haze of web links, locations, and instructions, each with different criteria and scheduling systems."
Dr. Anna Nagurney, an expert in logistics and professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst, said the rollout should have been smoother in a state known for its prowess in information technology.
"We have some of the smartest brains when it comes to IT, OK?" she said. "Why wasn't this done properly? Why wasn't it planned? Why don't you make it easy for many people?"
Residents and state lawmakers alike complain that the state's vaccination website is difficult to navigate. A group of eight representatives wrote to Baker late Wednesday night to flag what Rep. Tami Gouveia called "deep concerns" about the state's COVID-19 vaccination rollout process.
Expecting older adults to use a single state-run website to secure appointments, they wrote, "ignores the digital divide experienced by many of our seniors, people with limited English proficiency, those who are hearing and/or visually impaired, those without family members nearby, those without access to broadband, and other populations who have been historically marginalized due to income, age, or immigration status."
State Sen. Harriette Chandler, 84, wrote that she struggled to find an appointment for herself on Twitter, but that the website is "simply ineffective."
"Take it from this grandmother, online-only appointment booking is difficult for older people," Chandler tweeted. "Over the past year I thought I've gotten pretty decent at managing this new digital world. Well... the state's vaccine website proved me wrong!"
But Gov. Charlie Baker is urging people to be patient with the process, explaining that it would remain difficult until a steadier stream of doses arrives from the federal government. Baker said Wednesday that eligible residents should be ready to visit the state website "several" times as they attempt to set up an appointment.
"We expect that by the start of Phase 2 there will be a large number of residents trying secure a limited number of appointments," Baker said during a press conference. "If you can't secure an appointment right away, you need to be patient about that. We understand the difficulty that's attached to that, but keep checking the website."
Frustrated with the sign-up process to get the COVID vaccine in Massachusetts? Tell us about your experience by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley weighed in on the state's vaccine distribution earlier this week, calling it "absolutely unacceptable," on Twitter. Pressley has been calling attention to the "glaring disparities," of the pandemic's impact on communities of color and now access to the vaccine.
State Rep. Mindy Domb joined the chorus, calling for faster distribution and better communication on how to get vaccinated. "We need to improve quickly," Domb wrote on Twitter.
Residents 75 or older began signing up for COVID-19 vaccinations Wednesday as part of Phase 2 of the state's vaccination plan, which begins Monday.
But many are complaining that the process has been cumbersome and that the state website boots off users or redirects to separate pharmacy sites. When one finally finds the page to book an appointment, few are available.
Massachusetts resident Cathy Ferguson said she stayed up until midnight trying to get her 82-year-old mother-in-law a vaccination appointment.
"I feel like it's a mish-mash week to week," she said. "Nobody really knows what's going on."
Baker said the system was backed up because the demand for vaccinations was outstripping supply, adding that some 20,000 first responders eligible in Phase 1 of the plan were still "working through the process."
The governor said his administration was working to create additional resources to help seniors navigate the sign-up process, including by providing more information to local governments. He also asked residents to help loved ones or neighbors who may be struggling with the process.
"Wow, I've been trying since six this morning," said Mia Silva, a Framingham resident who was trying to book vaccine appointments for her elderly parents. "If my parents didn't have us, there would be no way they'd be able to navigate getting an appointment, and it's not fair. I feel like a lot of people won't go vaccinate because it's too stressful."
"You were totally blocked out of it, and that's the way it's been," said Phyllis Brett, 75, of Mashpee. "And then I finally gave up, I said, 'You know, I'm done, I'm just done.'"
"There's so many issues," UMass Amherst professor Nagurney said. "We don't have a centralized database for registering in the state of Massachusetts, so folks have to go from one website to another."
She's even noticed mistakes on the various websites people are directed to.
Baker said the state was told by the Biden administration that more vaccination doses would arrive soon, but that he did not receive further details.
"The state's ability to vaccinate our residents will obviously depend on how much vaccine we get from the federal government and when; suffice to say we'll move the doses when they arrive," he said.
Anyone ages 75 or older can begin making appointments for dates Monday, Feb. 1 or later as early as Wednesday at select locations. More locations will have appointments available in the coming days. Because vaccine supply is limited, folks may need to wait several weeks to schedule an appointment.
Two Steps For Seniors to Make an Appointment
- Use mass.gov/COVIDVaccineMap to find a vaccine clinic near you. The map specifies the difference between mass vaccination sites, general vaccination sites, pharmacy vaccination sites and local vaccination sites open only to select cities and towns.
- Make an appointment online and fill out the attestation form. The form can be printed from this PDF, filled out and brought to your appointment. If you cannot print out the form or complete it online, you may fill it out at the vaccination site.
Those 65 and older and individuals with two or more comorbidities will be in the second priority group, in keeping with guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The AARP of Massachusetts is also urging state leaders to set up a hot line to help with appointments, citing concerns about seniors navigating the state’s website to register.
In a letter to Baker and the Massachusetts Legislature Tuesday, State Director Mike Festa and State President Sandra Harris of AARP Massachusetts called for a dedicated 1-800 number to help seniors sign up for the vaccine.
"Individuals need to know where, when and how they can receive the vaccines," they wrote. "We continue to hear from members that they do not know when, where or how to schedule an appointment. This is unacceptable to AARP and should be to all Bay Staters. Massachusetts can and must do better."
Several NBC10 Boston viewers have complained of spending hours on the state's website to make an appointment to no avail. Appointments were shown as completely booked, according to viewers, or offered far away from home.
The State House News Service contributed to this report.