Washington, D.C. expanded COVID-19 vaccination eligibility March 1 to include residents aged 16-64 with qualifying medical conditions amid complaints of technical difficulties with the District’s vaccine portal.
The new requirements expand eligibility to residents with chronic medical conditions, including certain heart conditions, cancer, asthma and diabetes. The expansion marks the District’s transition into the next phase of vaccine distribution: Tier 1 of Phase 1C, which also allows food service staff, commercial and residential property maintenance workers and a variety of additional essential employees to receive the vaccine.
In response to the new eligibility requirements, Georgetown University is advising university community members to stay informed about eligibility conditions, although the university does not have its own supply of vaccines, according to Dr. Ranit Mishori, interim chief public health officer and professor of family medicine.
“We urge any member of the Georgetown community who is eligible to be vaccinated to take advantage of vaccination opportunities provided through your healthcare provider, or state or local government,” Mishori wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We are working to develop an approach that enables Georgetown to assist the DC government in its mission to provide the vaccine to as many people as possible in the District, including our university community.”
Community members should continue to take other COVID-19 safety precautions, according to Mishori.
“In addition to getting vaccinated when eligible, please remain vigilant in following all health and safety guidance, including wearing a mask, keeping at least six feet apart, avoiding indoor social gatherings, respecting quarantine requirements and meeting testing commitments,” Mishori wrote in a Feb. 23 email to Georgetown community members.
Since the initial rollout of vaccines in December, D.C.’s vaccine supply has been unable to meet eligible populations’ demands, and available vaccine appointments fill quickly, often privileging those with time, information and internet access, according to D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt.
“Initially, we got a lot of feedback, often not positive, about the standing time about when we release appointments,” Nesbitt said during a Feb. 18 D.C. Health press conference. “Nine a.m. doesn’t work for everybody. We have people who have jobs that they can’t come off of their job assignment to go to the website and claim appointments, and so we’re going to attempt to be flexible for that.”
In response to these concerns, the updated vaccine registration portal will notify groups of residents from the week’s priority ZIP codes when appointments become available. The registration process will also be accessible at times other than the usual 9 a.m. openings each week.
Despite these changes, D.C. residents continued to face challenges with the vaccine appointment registration process, experiencing technical difficulties including faulty CAPTCHA verification, difficulty verifying eligibility and website crashes on the vaccination portal when new appointments opened to Wards 5, 7 and 8 on Feb. 25.
District leadership apologized for the technical issues and assured residents efforts were being made to address the problems, according to a statement from Mayor Muriel Bowser’s (D) team.
“We know how stressful of a time this is, and we regret that this unfortunate situation occurred on a day when many of our residents with chronic health conditions were newly eligible for vaccination appointments,” the statement reads.
To account for the difficulties, the District opened another batch of 3,500 appointments to priority districts Feb. 27.
Residents ran into continued complications Feb. 26 and Feb. 27 again, however, citing issues like CAPTCHA code verification problems, error messages, a broken phone hotline and website crashes.
Even after moving beyond the frustrating CAPTCHA code verification screen, it was difficult to secure an appointment Feb. 26, according to Rachel Kerr (COL ’24).
“I think eventually probably a lot of people just gave up, and so then the website was a bit faster, so we got through. It was just incredibly slow, and then by the time we got on, there were still appointments available,” Kerr said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “We tried a bunch of locations, but by the time we had tried them all, all the appointments were gone.”