Massachusetts’ COVID-19 vaccine appointment portal temporarily crashed Thursday morning as more than 1 million additional state residents became eligible to schedule a shot.
Gov. Charlie Baker said the administration had run through different scenarios to try to avoid problems with the vaccine portal. He said people in the administration are in the process are trying to determine what happened.
The state on Thursday for the first time began allowing those age 65 and older, people with two or more certain medical conditions, and residents and staff of low income and affordable senior housing so sign up for a vaccine shot. But it came with a warning that it could take up to a month to book an appointment.
“Due to extremely high traffic and volume, the VaxFinder tool and vaccine location websites are experiencing delays and other technical difficulties,” the state’s COVID-19 Command Center said in a statement Thursday.
As of Friday morning, the issues appeared to have been resolved and the website seemed to be working properly. But vaccination appointments remained hard to find.
People who went to vaxfinder.mass.gov on Friday to book an appointment were told none were available. A statement from state health officials said “a small number of appointments for other locations,” including pharmacies and regional collaboratives, would be posted over the next few days.
Residents say it's been frustrating to say the least.
"It's a nightmare," said Susan Farnkoff. "For me to be 66 years old and stressing out because I can't get a vaccine, that bothers me."
"They did not plan at all. They made no advance planning," said Susan Labaire.
"Frustrating and very unforgivable," Peggy Chao added.
State Sen. Diana Dizoglio is joining the growing number of lawmakers calling on the governor to create a centralized booking system for vaccine sign ups, which many other states have already done.
"Where residents can go online, get registered in advance and then receive notification when they become eligible and then simultaneously book their appointments," Dizoglio said. "We can do better here in Massachusetts."
Dan Cahoon isn't waiting for the state to do better. The software engineer from Cambridge created the vaccine time Twitter feed. It alerts you when appointments open up.
"It’s a little easier to be notified when a spot opens up rather than to have to sit there constantly," he said. "It's just such a time suck to sit there refreshing a page."
Here's everything you need to know about Thursday's mishap:
So what happened?
Beginning at 8 a.m. Thursday, Massachusetts residents age 65 and over and those with two or more specific medical conditions were allowed begin to scheduling their COVID-19 vaccination appointments at www.mass.gov/covidvaccine.
But residents were already reporting issues with the Massachusetts vaccination finder website before 8 a.m.
Around 70,000 new appointments were expected to be posted at 8 a.m. at mass vaccination sites in Springfield and Danvers as well as at Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium. In a since deleted tweet, the state said Thursday morning that those appointments had yet to go live. In a new tweet an hour later, the state said "more mass vaccination appointments will be released throughout the morning."
In a series of tweets from the state's Twitter account, officials apologized for "website challenges" and said they were working to fix the problem, adding that appointments next week for multiple mass vaccination sites had already been fully booked.
Thursday night, the Baker administration issued an apology through the COVID-19 Command Center while giving an update on how many appointments were made successfully and how the web developer that runs the site is working to prevent similar issues in the future.
"The administration sincerely apologizes for the frustration and inconvenience our residents experienced over the course of the day," the agency said in a statement.
The command center added that 60,000 vaccination appointments for the week were booked, and that no availabilities remained this week at Fenway Park, Gillette Stadium, or in Danvers, Natick, Dartmouth or Springfield.
Residents, lawmakers blast 65+ rollout
As it became clear the website had crashed, residents took to social media to criticize the state's rollout of its vaccination program.
"It was like whack-a-mole. 'Oh, there it is! Oh, put the data in as fast as you can! And, oh, it is not here!" said Jim Tucker, who tried to book an appointment on his computer Thursday morning.
"Anyone with any knowledge would know that when you put a million people on one site, one day, it is going to crash. Didn't they think about that ahead of time?" said Maria Catalano, 72, who'd spent Wednesday practicing to sign up only to miss out on any appointments
Some state lawmakers also weighed in on the mess.
Massachusetts Senate President Karen Spilka, a Democrat, criticized the Baker administration's rollout of the vaccination process.
“I am deeply disappointed that today so many Massachusetts residents are feeling frustration and anger on a day when we should be experiencing hope. I hear it and I feel it too," she said in a statement. "The Administration must deliver a better experience for our residents, who have already dealt with so much anxiety and disruption.”
State Rep. Tami Gouveia, also a Democrat, expressed her displeasure with Thursday's rollout on Twitter, even using the hashtag "#managementfail." She said the issues with the website were avoidable.
The state Legislature has scheduled a hearing for next week to discuss the state’s bumpy vaccine rollout.
Maryland company takes the blame
The high volume of traffic may have contributed to the crash, according to Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel.
"I know there's frustration to this and I don't know the exact IT issue as to why it crashed, but we are working to resolve it," Bharel said in an interview with NBC10 Boston.
In an unsigned statement, PrepMod, a Maryland-based online clinic management and appointment scheduling system, said it took "full responsibility" for the website problems and vowed that it would not happen again.
The cause of the problem, the company said, was "a sudden and unprecedented surge in traffic to the site."
"Unfortunately, the system did not scale fast enough to accommodate the increased volume," the company said.
The Baker administration said PropMod addressed the issues and the state was pressure testing it to check the vendor's work. PropMod, which said it is "the state's biggest online appointment vendor," has been blamed for problems with vaccine distribution and appointment scheduling in other states over the last month and a half.
Olivia Adams, a software developer who built macovidvaccines.com to simplify the state's original online vaccine sign-up system, said the issues users experienced Thursday could have been prevented.
"This was totally foreseeable and there are ways to ensure that you have a resilient website that can withstand the immense traffic," she said.
Baker also fuming over crash
Baker seemed as upset as everyone else over the vaccination site's crash during a radio interview Thursday.
"My hair's on fire about the whole thing. I can't even begin to tell you how pissed off I am, and people are working really hard to get it fixed," the governor told GBH's Boston Public Radio.
"This is not satisfactory," he added. "It's awful and it's going to get fixed and I'm going to work very hard to make sure it doesn't happen again."