Frustration mounts in some Pennsylvania counties over COVID-19 vaccine appointment cancellations

WEST NORRITON TWP., Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Frustration is growing amongst people seeking the COVID-19 vaccine because of registration issues on the websites of several suburban Pennsylvania counties.

In Bucks County, two issues caused severe overbooking for vaccinations on Tuesday, February 15 and Wednesday, February 16. County officials say that over the weekend, 5,000 appointment invitations were sent out to pre-registered members of the 1A class who were selected to receive vaccines.

Those invitations were sent based on a first-come, first-serve basis when the individuals pre-registered with the county.

According to a statement released by Bucks County Commissioners:

"A software issue with the IT vendor resulted in some overbooking. This was exacerbated by people who received the original invitation and then forwarded it to other people who were not on the original list. These links then were shared over social media. As a result of this link-sharing, hundreds of people who were not even eligible for the 1A class booked appointments. The appointments made by these ineligible people have been canceled. Several hundred other people, while qualified for 1A status, made their appointments through shared links, rather than from an appointment received from the county, effectively moving them up in line ahead of others. That group of people, many of whom did not realize they were effectively jumping the line and not supposed to be getting appointments yet, are being rescheduled for later dates."

Bucks County officials are assuring the public that the county is continuing to schedule 1A people based on when they signed up on the registration site. If they have already registered on the site, there is nothing more they need to do.

"We're conscious of the fact that there are not a lot of vendors that do this beginning to end with their software from the beginning all the way through to merging data with the state and keeping it together. Everybody wants everything to be perfect and we are trying to get as perfect as we can and we are asking for people's patience," said Bucks County Commissioner Bob Harvie.

In Chester County, the Health Department sent out emails to people who qualify for Phase 1A with a personalized link and password. The information was shared via email and social media. However, officials say appointments were then taken away from many who qualify for that category and were directly contacted by the Health Department.

Now the Health Department is canceling appointments of those who used a shared link. If any of those individuals have already registered their interest with the Chester County Health Department to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, their name remains within the database in the order in which it was received and in the phase in which they qualify.

Chester County's Health Director, Jeanne Franklin, said Tuesday they had to cancel approximately 1,000 -2,000 appointments for this week.

"We're going to re-invite the same group and any extras we can add on because of additional doses. But those who are canceled, if they are registered they are still on the list and they'll get an invitation at some point," Franklin said.

In Montgomery County, a Facebook group of frustrated vaccine seekers has formed. Many are dealing with an issue with the code provided to registrants. One viewer tells Action News that she went to register but the server crashed after she submitted all of her information. When she tried logging in again, it notified her that the user number initially provided was already used.

In response, a spokesperson with Montgomery County tells Action News:

"To prevent line jumping, we have implemented a new single-use code to book vaccine appointments. Despite our staff doing a thorough test of the new functionality, some people have experienced issues that prevented them from getting an appointment. We are aware of the issues and anyone who was not able to make their appointment will get another opportunity to make an appointment shortly."
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