RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia Department of Health launched its new centralized website Tuesday where Virginians can pre-register for the COVID-19 vaccine.
The statewide site replaces those set-up by local health districts several weeks earlier. Those sites were deactivated on Friday as VDH prepared this new site. Local sites should now direct users to the state sign-up page.
People interested in receiving the vaccine enter their contact information and answer a series of questions, including if they have any allergies, and a second set that helps determine what phase of the vaccine rollout they fall into.
Users would then receive a pre-registration confirmation. The email version states that they will be contacted when a vaccine appointment becomes available, but warns because of the vaccine supply shortage, it may take several months.
Tuesday morning, several people reached out to CBS 6 stating they were unable to access the site, including Carl Bowling who lives in Middlesex County in the Three Rivers Health District.
"This morning, when it was supposed to come up -- I tried for over an hour and couldn't get in it,” said Bowling.
VDH said it was expecting millions of unique visits to the site on its first day online and had IT teams fixing issues as needed. They asked people for patience and for anyone who was unable to access the site to try again.
Bowling said he had already registered over the phone with his local health district about a month ago and was trying to confirm he was registered.
VDH said anyone who had previously registered with their local health districts would not need to re-register on the state site as their information was being transferred over to the state system. They said that check their registration status on the new site, but added data migration from the local districts was continuing throughout the week and it could take "several days for your name to appear in the centralized system”.
Bowling said he eventually called his local health district for help and someone at their local call center was able to access the site on his behalf, but told him he did not appear as registered and registered him on the new state site.
CBS 6 asked officials about Bowling’s situation and what this might mean for his place in line on a waitlist.
A spokesperson for the Virginia Department of General Services reiterated that it could take several days for someone’s name to appear in the system. They added that there is no penalty for someone who registers again.
“However, we are encouraging individuals not to do this so that hundreds of thousands of duplicates do not clog the system,” added DGS spokesperson Dena Potter. “Your local health district will use the first time you register as your place in line."
The site is currently available in English and Spanish using Google Translate. The utilization of that feature was criticized late Tuesday by state delegate and Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Guzman (D - 31st District).
“The Virginia Department of Health needs to work for all Virginians,” said Guzman said in a press release. “Relying on Google Translate to connect Spanish-speaking Virginians with a life-saving vaccine reflects either an abject cultural incompetence or a blatant disregard for the lives of our community. Please diversify your workforce and start tracking how many of your 5,231 employees speak Spanish. In the meantime, either hire a professional translation service (monolingual Spanish speakers pay taxes, too!) or send an all-staff email to see if you can identify one or two of your 5000+ employees who speak Spanish!”
A spokesperson for the Virginia Department of General Services responded to Guzman’s complaints in a statement to CBS 6.
"As we prepared to launch the site it became clear that technical delays with the Spanish version of the pre-registration system (which had been professionally translated and approved) would make it impossible to put that version online Tuesday morning,” said Potter. "Spanish-speaking Virginians deserve the same immediate access to this system as English speakers. So while working through technical challenges on the back-end, which we expect to be corrected soon, we used Google-Translate as a temporary stop-gap. We're glad to be able to provide this access. Language tools will continue to be enhanced over the coming days, including a call center that will be launched tomorrow that will have Spanish-speaking representatives, as well as the ability to translate in over 100 different languages.”
VDH added that this new site will not coordinate with the vaccines being made available at some CVS Pharmacies in Virginia through a federal partnership. They said that people will need to continue to register for that program through CVS’ website.
Officials added that on Wednesday, they would be launching a call center for people who cannot or do not feel comfortable signing up online. Governor Ralph Northam will provide additional information at a news conference on Wednesday scheduled for 2 p.m.