NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Word of a Thursday COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Norfolk spread far and wide — in fact, too far and too wide.
A link sent to certain people in Virginia’s 1b vaccine category to sign up for a vaccine event at Norfolk’s Military Circle Mall on Thursday was leaked out the masses when it wasn’t intended to be.
That led to many people signing up and receiving confirmation that they’d be able to get their shot, only to be turned away.
Virginia Department of Health officials said they found out Wednesday night that the link, which was originally just sent to the correct people, was then shared out beyond that intended audience.
So they canceled all appointments and only rescheduled the valid ones (for people who qualify — ages 65 and up, frontline workers such as teachers, etc.)
Only 924 doses were scheduled to be given out Thursday.
Still, a long line formed outside of Military Circle on Thursday for appointments, wrapped around the mall. It wasn’t clear how many came thinking they’d be getting the vaccine, but some had reportedly stood outside for some time believing they get their shot, including a few seniors.
“There’s plenty of people in this line that are younger than we are. It’s not fair,” said Kay Martin, who is getting ready to celebrate her 86th birthday Friday. “We’re scared because we need to get the vaccine.”
Martin never got her shot Thursday. She found out about the clinic at Military Circle Mall through her daughter. It was by invitation only, but when people who qualified began sharing their link that was meant for them only, turnout was above expectations.
Virginia Department of Health representatives walked the line trying to explain why Martin and others would have to come back another day.
“[The VDH rep] said we don’t have a valid appointment although we got an email yesterday saying we got an 11:30 appointment, but she said it wasn’t valid.”
Richard Boutwell and his wife stood in line for more than an hour.
“[The confirmation] said ‘here’s the name and here’s the time that you have to be here.’ Hallelujah, we thought we had done it,” he said. “It’s just a little frustrating and I’m a grown up, and glitches happen.”
“Unfortunately what we’ve seen is that well-intentioned family members are sending the link to friends and family,” said VDH spokeswoman Melissa Dozier. “They want people to be vaccinated and we 100% agree, but the link is only good for one person. When they share it, it overloads the clinic.”
The clinic was running as scheduled by Thursday afternoon, and VDH is planning to have more clinics at the same location.
After the issues Thursday, the Norfolk Department of Public Health and city both asked residents not to use any shared links to register.
If you need assistance submitting the preregistration form for a Norfolk vaccine online, call 757-664-SHOT (7468).
Chopper 10 got shots of the line from above.
Dr. Danny Avula, Virginia’s vaccine coordinator, says this link-sharing has been an issue they’re looking to fix.
“This has been one of the challenges with the registration platform that the federal government gave us. When we initially rolled this out, there was a system provided to every state by the federal government and one of the most frustrating things about it was that that link could be shared or that people could access clinics outside of their locality. A health department would set up an event and then all of a sudden it would be filled with people from all over the state.”
Avula says they’re working to start a new platform.
“So that is one of the many reasons we have shifted away from that registration platform. We are onboarding a new registration platform that will allow more accuracy and control over that to make sure that that doesn’t happen and to make sure that those essential work groups that are in 1b can really be prioritized for upcoming events.”
Meanwhile, sign-ups in Western Tidewater (Suffolk, Isle of Wight, etc.) are having a different issue. The local health department is not using the internet to sign up, only phones, with the reason being many people 65 and up either don’t have or have trouble using the internet. That’s led to people not being able to get through. Appointments were still available as of 11 a.m., but people kept getting a busy tone after trying to call for hours. Officials said to keep calling.