WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — Within 30 minutes of opening the scheduling of the coronavirus vaccine for Dallas County residents 65 years or older, all slots were booked and the frustration among those trying to get a shot began.
Patty Hible was online to get an appointment for her husband, who has been out of work as an Uber driver during the pandemic. Hible even logged onto the Dallas County Public Health website on Monday to do a practice run.
"I set an alarm for 7:45 a.m. [Tuesday] to make sure I was ready," said Hible.
Hible bookmarked the website below, run by the Dallas County Public Health department.
Hible said she went on every Hy-Vee and Medicap pharmacy site listed, but was given the same message: no vaccines available. So she went back to the public health website to schedule an appointment.
"It never brought anything up," said Hible. "I tried for over an hour and a half. I called them. Nothing. Finally they admitted to me they were having some technical difficulties."
Abigail Chihak with DCPH said the staff knew the appointments would fill quickly. The county was allotted 700 doses last week. There are more than 11,000 Dallas County residents 65 and older. A majority of those doses were set aside for those 65 and older.
Chihak also took responsibility for the technical issues.
"I thought I had it working smoothly last night. I was wrong," said Chihak. "We addressed the issue quickly and the link is currently functional for anyone wanting to use it for future scheduling."
DCPH is using the same online scheduling program it used for health care workers, and, according to Chihak, that system worked well.
Michelle Burkemper, another Dallas County resident, was on her computer the same time Hible was on Tuesday morning, trying to book an appointment for her 81-year-old mother.
"She doesn't know how to use the computer, Facebook, no clue," said Burkemper. "And it seems like all of the information about the vaccine schedule is on Facebook. So I went on the website, but it wasn't clear where to go. It was beyond frustrating. I'm annoyed."
Burkemper said she had the time on Tuesday to call around and do online research for her mom because the snowstorm canceled much of her work, but she said she can't always do that.
"You know, it's a scary thing to think about, that she might not get a vaccine or if she does, you know, Lord knows when that'll be," said Burkemper. "And if they can't figure this first tier out, this first small group, what's going to happen in the third and fourth?"
Chihak said DCPH has heard from residents about the website being difficult to navigate, and promised for a smoother rollout for future appointments.
"I know it isn’t always the most user friendly but I plan to put out some tips or a video to help folks out soon. And we are always willing to help folks over the phone, though call volumes have been extremely high so they may have to leave a message," said Chihak.
Statewide, vaccine appointments for Iowans 65 and older are supposed to be available beginning Feb. 1. The Iowa Department of Public Health has left it up to local public health departments to set up systems to schedule appointments and disseminate messages to eligible residents.