Georgetowners Find Getting Vaccination Appointments Challenging


Last Thursday, Jan. 21, the day after President Joe Biden’s inauguration, a new concern filled the minds of District health experts and residents: getting an appointment to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, so life could finally start heading back to the pre-2020 normal.

A Jan. 21 District Department of Health announcement stated: “2,235 vaccination appointments are now available for District residents who are 65 years of age and older, and/or health care workers and who live in priority zip codes.” But the list of priority zip codes for distribution left out Georgetown and other parts of Ward 2 and Ward 3, including zip codes 20003 through 20009.

“The District of Columbia has instituted a ‘computer lottery’ where thousands of seniors compete with each other and thousands of much younger people twice a week to snag one of a few hundred scarce appointments,” wrote Georgetown resident Don W. Crockett, who is 83 years old and has a heart condition. 

“The first lottery lasted only minutes before the computer system crashed,” he continued. “The last lottery for 740 vaccine doses opened Friday morning at 9:00 AM. The competition lasted for only 13 minutes before all appointments were taken. During that 13-minute time, I filled out the lengthy questionnaire three times only to have it rejected each time, requiring me to start over.”

Stories filled the internet about the difficulty of getting an appointment. Hospitals in Georgetown, such as MedStar Georgetown University and Sibley Memorial, advised their former patients to check that their patient registrations were up to date and promised to notify them when their turn for a vaccine appointment was scheduled. But, as of press time, there had been no announcement of vaccine distribution at those hospitals.

On Jan. 22, DC Health announced that “at 9:00 a.m., 740 additional appointments will become available to any DC resident who is 65+. Use the portal, or if needed, use the call center, to register for an appointment.” But by 9:15 a.m. most of those who went online received this notice: “All 2,235 vaccination appointments made available this morning have been booked. Please check back here for future appointment releases and please sign up for alerts via email or text for future announcements.” 

“I understand your frustrations about the roll-out,” wrote Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Gwen Lohse, who lives on O Street NW. “Many of you just had confirmation numbers from the portal with no appointment (try to get a new number if you are 65 and older). If you cannot use an on-line portal, call coronavirus call center at 855-363-0333.” However, thereare many stories on social media about residents who spent hours on hold trying to get through.

“But take any vaccination location you can get,” wrote Lohse. “If you need a ride, a volunteer, masked neighbors will take you! (car windows open). I will pass along reasonable information as it is available.”

Over the weekend, some Georgetowners, including this reporter, heard that Howard University Hospital had appointment slots open, and signed up. But on Sunday, some were notified that their appointments were canceled due to a lack of vaccine.

“If you previously attempted to get an appointment and you did not receive a notification with a confirmation code, date and location, you must re-register,” Mayor Muriel Bowser wrote online, advising residents with internet access to register for an appointment through vaccinate.dc.gov. “Those who qualify can try to get an appointment anywhere in the district. We appreciate your patience as we work together to get Washingtonians across all eight wards vaccinated.”

“This ‘computer lottery’ nonsense must stop,” concluded Crockett. “It’s unconscionable for the District to place computer finesse and pure luck ahead of often-dire health considerations. Seniors should be able to fill out and submit the questionnaire on their own time and the District should then prioritize appointments according to age and health criteria, as is the practice in Maryland and Virginia.”

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