Approximately 600,000 more people in Connecticut became eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, bringing the total number of people eligible to roll up their sleeve over 1 million. That does not include health care workers and educators under 55 who are also allowed to get the vaccine.
The state expects to more than double its number of doses from 60,000 to 150,000. However, that still won’t be enough to meet the growing demand which has led to frustration with new appointments almost impossible to come by.
“I just want to get it done, do my part to lower the infection rate,” said Doug St. John of Wallingford.
The 56-year-old is one of those newly eligible for the vaccine, but he’s had no luck getting an appointment. He logged onto his computer at 6 a.m. Monday to make an appointment at Hartford HealthCare’s new super site at the Oakdale Theater.
“I went through every single day of the month to see what dates were available and it can’t even process it. The system can’t even process what appointments are available,” St. John said.
He tried calling to make an appointment but said he was hung up on.
Hartford HealthCare, which uses its own appointment system, acknowledged the issue.
“Because of high demand, appointments are currently very limited and you may find our websites and phone lines slower than usual. We encourage you to please be patient and try logging on every few days,” a spokesperson told NBC Connecticut in a statement.
St. John said he experienced similar frustrations with the Vaccine Administration Management System’s website used by many health care providers across the state, and was unable to book an appointment anywhere.
“You go to the VAMS site, do the 25 mile radius, nobody has vaccines available through the VAMS site,” he said.
Sixty-one-year-old Susan Botteon of Manchester said it took her four hours to get through to someone on the state hotline. Then she said she got disconnected as she was making the appointment and never received a call back.
“I’ve been crying all day,” Botteon said. “I was so lucky to get through and that was a one-in-a-million shot.”
She reported that the next time she got through she received an automated message that all appointments were booked.
“I’m thinking I’m never going to get through again,” said Botteon who said she doesn’t have the luxury to make appointments on a computer.
By 11 a.m., Yale-New Haven Health reported on its website that all vaccine appointments were full.
“The state has asked and requested that people in the educational field get vaccinated and get their first dose at least by the end of March. So what we are doing is building our schedules to meet that need while also serving the general 55-64 year old population,” said Ohm Deshpinde, Vice President of Population Health for Yale-New Haven Health.
Altogether, Community Health Center Inc. added 1,000 appointments at its three largest sites overnight.
“We saw within an hour that 75 appointments got filled in one location. So, they’re going to go really quickly,” said Regional Vice President Yvette Highsmith.
Connecticut’s Department of Public Health said it anticipated the system would be inundated over the next several days and urged people to wait to sign up until later in the week to ease the stress on the system.
“We’re very confident that everyone who just became eligible in this phase will eventually be able to get an appointment within the next three weeks,” said Josh Geballe, the chief operating officer for Governor Lamont’s administration.
Geballe said it’s the right time to expand eligibility because appointments for the 65 plus age group have slowed down.
“Last weekend, if you were 65 and above you could have gotten a same day appointment,” he explained. “As soon as we see any slack in the demand we will move immediately to the next phase, which is what we did today."
Highsmith said she observed the same issue before the state expanded eligibility to those 55 and older.
“Not all locations across the state are filling all of their appointments,” said Highsmith. “All hands-on-deck is really the solution to this and giving as many of our residents the opportunity to schedule those appointments is the best way to go about this.”
The state asked healthcare providers to open up slots through April 8th. Those who were able to book out later will likely be able to move up their appointment once the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine is factored into availability, said Geballe.
“This is exactly what we hoped for, very strong interest in demand to come out and get vaccinated,” he added.