The District is working to simplify the COVID-19 vaccine registration process as Foggy Bottom residents struggle to secure appointments.
Foggy Bottom residents said they’ve been unable to book vaccine appointments because of website crashes, limited availability and difficulty navigating the registration website. To address the glitches, residents have sought technological help from other community members to register for the vaccine, and city officials will launch a preregistration system this week for residents to enter personal information ahead of time and choose from limited appointments more quickly.
John George, the president of the Foggy Bottom Association, said eligible elderly residents continue to face difficulties getting a vaccine appointment because they can’t register fast enough before all available appointments are taken. Citywide patients have overwhelmed the website in recent weeks – the volume of site visitors Friday causing a six-minute delay in the site being activated that morning.
George said friends and family members who can type and find open appointments faster have helped local senior citizens register for the vaccine but have also created more traffic that slows or crashes the website. GW Hillel launched a similar program earlier this year where student volunteers helped senior citizens sign up for the vaccine and navigate any technological difficulties.
“More and more people were going on to help people get an appointment, so that crashed the system,” George said.
The District’s registration website opens every week at 9 a.m. on Thursday for residents in Wards 5, 7 and 8. All other residents can register Fridays at 9 a.m.
Under the new registration system, patients can enter their personal information online during preregistration, and only 3,000 users can use the registration website at once while others stay in a virtual waiting room.
The District has administered more than 165,000 doses of the vaccine as of Sunday, accounting for at least partial vaccinations for 9.3 percent of the city population, according to city data. The city has vaccinated 23 percent of all residents in Ward 2, which includes Foggy Bottom, while Wards 7 and 8 have vaccinated the fewest percentages of residents in the city – at 12 and 10.5 percent, respectively.
The District has prioritized vaccinating patients from Wards 5, 7 and 8, which have been the hardest hit by the virus, opening more appointments for patients and notifying high-priority cohorts about openings. Despite falling in priority, George said residents from Foggy Bottom have understood the need to enhance equity and have shown support for city officials’ decisions at Advisory Neighborhood Commission meetings.
“We understand that there is limited supply, and there does need to be some kind of priority distribution,” he said. “Those priority wards were released on Thursday, and then all wards are open on Friday for however many doses they have and they’re equal.”
George shares updates on vaccine eligibility, inoculation sites and changes to the vaccine registration website in the FBA newsletter, which is posted for residents on the group’s website every Friday. He said he hopes that keeping residents informed about vaccine distribution and appointment registration will reduce stress and anxiety for local community members.
Denise Snyder, the executive director of the Foggy Bottom West End Village, said she’s connected volunteers with elderly residents who struggle to quickly type their personal information and find open appointments on the website before they’re filled.
“We get tech-savvy volunteers and/or staff to get the information that’s needed from the older adults and go online and register for them so they can get through the process more quickly,” she said.
Snyder said the District’s prioritization of residents from lower-income neighborhoods has improved equitable distribution. But she said city officials also need to increase the total supply of doses offered to residents disproportionately affected by COVID-19 cases and mortality.
“They started doing the priority zip codes on Thursdays and opening it up to the whole city on Fridays, which was a good thing to try to create a more equitable distribution, but it’s still not anywhere close to being even,” Snyder said.
Susan Lampton, a Foggy Bottom resident, said she received her second dose of the Moderna vaccine last week after her family members helped her register for an appointment. She said she first tried to register at every hospital in the area, but locations like Howard University Hospital only opened appointments after she received her first dose at the Giant Food grocery store on O Street.
After becoming eligible to receive the vaccine as a senior citizen in January, Lampton said she tried registering for an appointment four times but couldn’t enter her health insurance and personal information fast enough. She said she couldn’t secure her appointment until receiving help from family members.
“I went into the system four times, and these appointments would be offered at 9 and by 9:15, they were gone,” Lampton said. “There was a congressperson who compared it to ‘The Hunger Games,’ which I agree with.”
Christina Farnsworth, a Foggy Bottom resident and member of the Foggy Bottom West End Village, said she received her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine last month. She said her doctor made an appointment for her to receive the vaccine, allowing Farnsworth to bypass online registration.
“I felt incredibly blessed because I didn’t have to go on the website,” Farnsworth said. “I didn’t have to call anybody. They called me, so I felt really pampered.”
She said she’s spoken to other members of the Village who have shared stories of the registration website freezing or crashing and appointments filling up too quickly. Although Farnsworth has heard her friends express frustration with the website, she said local residents understand that the District has faced problems, like a lack of guidance from the previous presidential administration.
“We agree this is an unprecedented situation, that we’ve had so much going on and that our mayor has so many balls she’s juggling in the air,” Farnsworth said. “They’re doing the best they can.”
This article appeared in the March 8, 2021 issue of the Hatchet.