NYC's Covid-19 Vaccine Website Is a Mess as Eligibility Opens to Seniors

Illustration for article titled NYCs Covid-19 Vaccine Website Is a Mess as Eligibility Opens to Seniors
Photo: Kena Betancur (Getty Images)

As New York City expands the pool of citizens who are eligible to receive the covid-19 vaccine to seniors and frontline workers, Comptroller Scott Stringer is warning that the online signup system for appointments is unnecessarily complicated and could lead to delays in the vaccination process.

People laughed when the CIA launched a hip new redesign of its website last week but a quick visit to the NYC Health department’s website will have you begging for the clean navigation that our nation’s spies enjoy. Like most government websites, there’s a lot of information, and you might not even be able to find the section for making an appointment at one of the 160 designated sites in NYC. In fact, there are multiple websites for booking.

In a tweet thread on Sunday night, Stringer raised the alarm that at the time, there were still 200 appointments available for Tuesday and said that the “site for signing up for a COVID vaccination is complex, burdensome, and buggy.” Stringer found the NYC Health and Hospitals interface to be more user-friendly, but he still ran into page-breaking bugs during the sign-up process.

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What’s more, once a user locates the correct website, they are launched into a labyrinth of signups and questionnaires. Stringer counted 51 required questionnaire fields and said that users are asked to upload an image of their insurance card. “All of this will be particularly challenging for populations that struggle with digital literacy and digital access—who have been hit hardest by this pandemic and who need the vaccine most,” Stringer said.

Gizmodo went through the signup process up to the point that the site informed us that it would be a crime to enter false information, so we haven’t gone through it all. (Your author is not yet eligible for a vaccine.) But we can confirm there are a lot of questions to answer, and the site navigation is pretty confusing. Just to log in, you have to set up a new account with an email, click a link in your email which sends you to a page asking for you to reenter your email, then a verification code is finally sent to your email that can be used to log in. That’s just too many steps.

When we contacted the Health department about Stringer’s complaints, a spokesperson directed us to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Monday morning press conference in which he announced the opening of two new 24-hour vaccination sites. De Blasio didn’t address the website concerns directly, but he acknowledged that online registration might not be the ideal route for some citizens.

“Let’s face it, the number one group we’re concerned about is our elders—folks over 75 years old,” de Blasio said. “Some of them are great online, others really don’t feel comfortable online.” The mayor said for that reason, he’s announcing a phone hotline that people can call at 1-877-vax-4nyc (1-877-829-4692). For now, the mayor warned, there could be long wait times on the line, but the city is working to increase staff and get it running 24 hours a day.

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There’s been a good bit of talk in recent weeks about the fact that NYC was able to vaccinate 6 million people for smallpox in less than a month way back in 1947. But the covid-19 vaccine requires two doses taken about a month apart and requires administrators to gather a significant amount of information from patients, which has slowed the process. In recent days, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has opened up the rules around who can get the vaccine as he faced growing outcry over unused vaccines expiring in the freezers of authorized clinics.

On Monday, de Blasio said that NYC administered 101,799 shots last week and has a goal of 175,000 vaccinations this week. While those numbers look like progress, they aren’t enough to meet the city’s goal of 1 million vaccines administered by the end of January. And de Blasio is already talking about supply shortages in the near future.

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DISCUSSION

I dont know what the alternative would have been, but I have to imagine having hundreds of thousands of senior citizens going onto a website given minimal time to create and prepare...  I greatly pity those working the help line.