‘It is competitive and complicated’: Seniors wait for links to compete for access to vaccine

VIDEO: Pierce County seniors frustrated over vaccine online sign up mixup

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — The Tacoma - Pierce County Health Department apologized for a website failure, which left people frustrated while they waited for a COVID-19 vaccine registration link that never appeared. Now, the department is working on multiple fronts to ensure easier access to vaccines for seniors and people of color.

The actual link to register for 1,200 doses at Tacoma’s Franklin Pierce High School appeared on Facebook and Twitter, as well as on Pierce County’s health website. People who found the links reserved all 1,200 spots in about 20 minutes.

“We apologize to those of you who were waiting on our website to see the link pop up,” the department stated, adding, “We will continue to develop ways for you to register that depend less on rapid use of a registration link that you can access.”

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“The problem occurred because our website vendor, Granicus, misconfigured our website,” the department stated. “That meant the site couldn’t handle the large volume of traffic we received from people who wanted to register.”

Like thousands of other seniors at the Tacoma pop-up vaccination site, Lynn Gleason waited for the sign-up link to open on the department’s website, which stated: “Find a registration link and details here on Tuesday at 9am.”

“Right at 9 o’clock, I started,” she said. “I wanted to be right there.”

“We’ve had a lot of difficulty getting an appointment,” said Bob Dietz, who is nearly 90 and received the first dose at the event with his wife Bee Dietz — both are elite scholars. “We’re both technically trained,” he said. “I have a Ph.D. in physics, but I think it’s impossible. The online process has got to be simplified. It is competitive and complicated.”

“Our son did this for us,” said Bee Dietz. “Our son signed us up.”

Jacquie Witherrite and Ray Witherrite, who are 80 years old and 77 years old, respectively, are internet-savvy seniors. “I actually had my Chrome and my Safari simultaneously trying to do it,” Witherrite said.

“There were a lot of senior citizens, I’m sure, watching this carefully, trying to make it work,” said Heidi Nagel, a legal senior advocate, who also waited for the link that never appeared.

Nagel said the online process is leaving most seniors feeling helpless to get in line.

“I don’t see how someone with a lower level of computer literacy than we have are going to be able to register for this,” she said. “This is just really hard to do, and posted absolutely everywhere is ‘Don’t call us!’”

Witherrite, who worked for Alaska Airlines for years, had an idea to simplify the process for seniors.

“There are reservation agents all over the country, making airline reservations from home. It’s not that hard that they couldn’t set up and have an extra one hundred people for a few hours making COVID vaccine reservations by phone,” Witherrite said.

Tacoma - Pierce County Heath told KIRO 7 it is working on a phone bank and a process to make the vaccine available at the community level.