Massachusetts residents will be able to preregister for appointments at mass vaccination sites using a new online tool later this week, officials said Wednesday, as the state works to revamp its website.
According to officials, the system will go live mid-morning Friday and allow eligible residents to pre-register for appointments at the state's seven mass vaccination sites. Starting that day, all appointments at those sites will be booked through the new tool.
All residents will be able to pre-register starting Friday morning, but the administration is encouraging only those who are currently eligible to sign up.
Gov. Charlie Baker announced the new system for vaccination appointments at a Wednesday press conference in an attempt to rectify what has been a rocky vaccine rollout.
The new booking platform marks a significant shift in the Baker administration's vaccine rollout after weeks of criticism from lawmakers and residents, particularly aimed at the stress created by jockeying to secure a slot.
"I think the big issue is the continued shortage with respect to supply and the pressure this put on everyone who is part of this because of the limits associated with supply and the desire for folks to get vaccinated and the capacity in Massachusetts to vaccinate far more people than we actually have supply to deliver is a real burden for people," Baker said. "I think in that context, creating a preregistration system makes it possible to know where they are in the queue... and takes some of the heat and some of the sting out of what the supply shortage does generally for people here in the Commonwealth."
New appointments will be posted Thursday, March 11 on the state's Vaxfinder website for the last time. Over 40,000 new first dose appointments for mass vaccination sites will go live, along with over 47,000 second dose appointments at mass vaccination sites.
Anyone who is unsuccessful Thursday but eligible to get a vaccine will be able to go online Friday and book through the preregistration site. The state's 211 call center also has access to make appointments for anyone who cannot use a computer.
By filling out a preregistration form online, residents will be entered into a queue to be notified via text, e-mail or phone when an appointment becomes available at a nearby vaccination site. The appointment must be accepted within 24 hours, otherwise they return to the queue to wait for another.
Officials said eligible preregistered recipients may need to wait "several weeks" to get notification of open appointment slots given ongoing supply constraints.
In a second major announcement, officials said the state's seven mass vaccination sites will be reserved exclusively for educators during four dedicated days on Saturday, March 27, Saturday, April 3, Saturday, April 10, and Sunday, April 11.
Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said that will include about 25,000 total appointments.
Educators looking to sign up must use the new preregistration system to request an appointment and attest that they are K-12 educators, school staff members or childcare workers.
The state is working with Google to deploy the new preregistration system, according to Secretary of Technology and Security Services Curtis Wood. The intention is to eliminate the need for people to compete for appointments and allow the state to build out a waiting list.
Wood said the administration is confident that the Google-based platform will be "capable of handling all the traffic." The current vaccine appointment website crashed in the face of high volume last month when eligibility expanded to those age 65 to 74.
Meanwhile, state officials said they have been informed that Massachusetts will not receive an increase in first-dose vaccine allotment until the end of March. The state currently receives a constrained supply of about 150,000 first doses weekly.
"We would just caution everyone that, given the limited supply of vaccine from the federal government, these individuals may not receive vaccine until mid-April," Sudders said of the approximately 400,000 educators, school staff members and child care workers who will become eligible to receive the vaccine this week.
State House News Service contributed to this report.