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Thousands still waiting for vaccine appointments after Austin Public Health scheduling snafu

Wednesday, March 17, 2021 by Andrew Weber, KUT

People trying to sign up for their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine Monday night faced hourslong delays and were even booted from the queue to get an appointment through Austin Public Health’s site.

The glitches were so bad, the health authority had to pull the plug on scheduling. It said it’s working on a solution with the contractor that manages the portal and that it’s reopening the system for appointments Thursday.

APH has been opening an online queue for first doses every Monday at 5:45 p.m.

Users are given a number in line, then they wait until they’re taken to a prompt that allows them to set up an appointment. After that, they’re sent a confirmation by text and/or email.

The scheduling system, run on a Salesforce platform, has experienced delays when too many people try to get an appointment at the same time. Users in the system are typically met with a spinning wheel and have to repeatedly click the Next button.

Those who reached the final step Monday weren’t able to get a confirmation, with some being kicked to the back of the line.

APH spokesperson Matt Lara told KUT he understands the frustration and that the agency is working with Salesforce and Sense Corp, the contractor that manages the portal, to figure out a solution.

“We’ve continued to work with our vendor on trying to improve the system as much as we can to avoid these issues of having people spend hours clicking the Next button,” he said. “And we certainly hope that through continued discussions this morning we can address the issues that were happening last night, so that future appointments can be more smooth and easier, as they have been for the last several appointment rollouts.”

Lara said APH “throttled” the system’s capacity, lowering it to just five people per minute, and saw the same error message.

APH paused the system around 10:45 p.m., then reopened it briefly before shutting it down altogether at 11:40.

APH said on Facebook Monday night that roughly 9,000 people were in line at one point. Lara said APH would reach out to people who made it through the queue but were unable to finalize an appointment. Those who never got to that scheduling prompt will have to wait until APH opens its next availability Thursday, Lara said.

“We don’t have a way to identify those individuals that were in the queue,” he said.

Lara said there are 224,000 people in APH’s system who are currently eligible for the vaccine but have yet to set up an appointment. Appointments will reopen on APH’s portal Thursday evening.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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