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Tech hiccups behind COVID-19 vaccine rollout see line-hopping: reports

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As the country continues to navigate the early phases of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, reports document glitches in websites for appointments, leaving coveted time slots up for grabs by the general public.

While the Trump administration just advised expanding the tiered phase vaccine rollout to those 65 and older and others at high risk for severe illness, these software hiccups see lower-priority groups line-hopping with hopes to secure vaccinations sooner.

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Take Dallas County in Texas, for example, where county officials reported that web links for scheduling vaccinations were released across the internet.

“We had a lot of people in North Dallas who were not contacted by us but had it forwarded to them and had found a way to get an appointment,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins told CBS DFW.

Or Arizona, where ineligible populations booked appointments amid a glitch in the website, per the Phoenix New Times.

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“The website showing appointment availability for individuals not in the current prioritized phase was caused by an error in how some vaccination sites were inputted into the system,” Steve Elliott, spokesperson for the state health department, confirmed to the outlet in an email. “The website issue was quickly identified and corrected (in about a day and a half). The number of people impacted would be very small.”

Similar issues cropped up in New Jersey, where lower-priority groups were able to sign up for appointments through a MyChart portal.

“It asked me my date of birth, my email — it confirmed that I had an appointment,” MyChart patient Staci Blank told ABC 7 NY. A representative for Hackensack Meridian Health Hospital told the outlet the link was meant for first responders, but a glitch left slots open to the wider public.

Blank told the outlet she could make additional accounts on the portal and sign family members up for appointments, too.

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“We did not text or email the registration link to patients. We are calling everyone who signed up for a vaccine to obtain their badge number and information on where they work, if someone signed up erroneously, we will tell them that their appointment is being canceled and will be rescheduled when it is appropriate under state and CDC guidelines to obtain the vaccine,” Hackensack Meridian Health spokesman Mary Jo Layton told ABC 7 NY. Despite the error, the hospital said vaccines still went to the right patients.

Meanwhile, Haywood County officials in North Carolina identified and corrected a mistake in its scheduling software, which involved 150 patients erroneously contacted for sign-ups.

“Our plan to ensure that vaccination appointments were assigned fairly was to randomize the list of names in the over 75 group and to call groups of people from that randomized list for appointments as vaccine became available,” per a Haywood County Emergency Management news release, according to ABC 13 News

“The mistake that occurred Monday was that the entire list was randomized, including those under 75, and calls were placed to some people that should not have had their turn until later in the prioritization schedule.”

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Those contacted in error were reportedly offered a chance to surrender appointments to those at higher risk. 

These glitches amid the rollout may have further delayed vaccinations for vulnerable populations, such as older adults, health care workers and those with underlying conditions. Difficulties associated with the thawing process for vaccines have resulted in lower-priority individuals receiving vaccinations or even discarded vaccines, as health care workers scramble to use supply. 

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