Rekha Murthy knows a thing or two about navigating a website.
But even Murthy, who has an extensive background in online user experience design, was stumped when she and her mother began clicking through websites on Wednesday morning to register her father for a COVID-19 vaccine as the state opened slots for shots to residents ages 75 and up.
“I literally worked in user experience design for years,” Murthy told the Herald. “This is an area I know and I was stumped.”
Three hours, myriad third-party websites and a few failed registration attempts later, Murthy finally secured her father a slot at the mass vaccination site at Springfield’s Eastfield Mall, about a dozen miles from her family’s Longmeadow home.
“We had a year, we knew there would be a vaccine. I want to be forgiving of the fact that states have been under enormous pressure caring for people with COVID,” Murthy said. “But this is appalling and so unfair.”
Murthy’s frustrations were echoed across the commonwealth on Wednesday after Massachusetts opened up vaccine registration for residents ages 75 and older ahead of its Phase 2 vaccine rollout on Monday.
“There’s a tremendous amount of confusion, frustration, anger and chaos,” state Sen. Rebecca Rausch, D-Needham, said after fielding calls from constituents throughout the day. “It is a significant not just disappointment and disservice, but a deadly one.”
The problems began not long after some registration portals went live at midnight. Residents and their loved ones soon found themselves facing outdated information, issues navigating the third-party websites the state is relying on to book appointments and waiting in lengthy virtual queues only to find there were no appointments available.
“I have no idea why they put this out as being ready for use. It’s just not. It doesn’t work. It’s opaque, it’s confusing, it’s infuriating,” 77-year-old state Sen. Patricia Jehlen, D-Somerville, said after trying to get an appointment for herself. “Why not a central registry from the beginning? Why not use hospitals? They have capacity. But instead we have 25 different little organizations.”
Gov. Charlie Baker urged patience in an afternoon press conference, noting that the more than 1 million Massachusetts residents over 75 who will gain access to vaccines on Monday amounts to more than the entire number of doses the state’s received thus far. Plus, he said, not everyone eligible in Phase 1 has completed their two-dose regimen yet.
“If you can’t secure an appointment right away, you need to be patient about that,” he said. “We understand the difficulty that’s attached to that, but keep checking the website.”
Baker said the state is “working to create additional resources” for booking appointments and that “more time slots will be added on a rolling basis as we get additional supply.”
But he said “unless there is a big change in the federal distribution on this, we do expect that we’re going to end up with more capacity than we have vaccine to serve.”
Baker encouraged family members and friends to help older residents book their appointments. Among them was Beth Kontos, president of the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, who spent four hours trying to book an appointment for her 92-year-old mother. In the end, she had to use multiple computers and her cellphone to get the job done.
“She has a flip phone, she doesn’t have internet, she doesn’t have a computer. She keeps saying constantly, ‘I’m so lucky I have kids who can help me,’” Kontos said. “Sometimes I’m almost in tears with worry because we can help my mother, but I can only imagine the person who doesn’t have someone to help them.”