Local News

Wake opens 1,000 phone lines, taking calls 24 hours a day for vaccine sign-up

Posted January 18, 2021 10:27 p.m. EST
Updated January 20, 2021 8:16 a.m. EST

— Wake County has expanded its COVID-19 registration hotline from 100 phones to 1,000 after a phone number and website launched Tuesday morning quickly crashed under the number of people trying to access it.

The website and a phone registration hotline opened at 8:30 a.m. for people 65 or older to join a waitlist for vaccinations. Minutes later, people started reporting problems to WRAL News.

One person said the phone number played a message saying the line was disconnected, and dozens of others couldn't get the web tool to load.

Wake County spokeswoman Stacy Beard said hundreds of thousands of people visited the website within seconds of each other, causing it to crash.

"The sheer volume is immense," Beard said.

Coronavirus vaccinations in NC

Bill Greeves, the county's chief information and innovation officer, apologized for the rocky rollout during a Tuesday afternoon meeting of the Wake County Board of Commissioners.

Right now, any caller past 100 gets a busy signal. By expanding to 1,000 phone lines, people will be put on hold until an agent can get to them, Greeves said. The county is adding agents to answer phones, but that could take several days, he said.

“This is a supply and demand issue," Board of Commissioners Chairman Matt Calabria said, noting that the county, like most places nationwide, simply doesn't have enough vaccine to go around. "We are working with the state as best we can, but ultimately, the state is grappling with its own scarcity issues."

According to state officials, 458,914 people in North Carolina have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine to date, which is about 4.4 percent of state residents.

Despite the busy phones and crashed website, the county had signed up more than 30,000 people by Tuesday night, including hundreds who aren't yet eligible for vaccination under state guidelines, officials said.

Some people just bypassed the system – and the waiting list – and showed up at the Wake County health department offices, where they got their shots immediately without an appointment.

"We were trying to get on the website – a lot of websites – trying to get the shot, and my daughter called and said they were giving the shot here [and] to go and try because a friend of hers had gotten the shot," said Chris Anderson, who got vaccinated along with her husband, Tom. "That’s how we ended up here. Came right down, and we were lucky enough to get the shot."

"It was wonderful. It was very smooth," said Virginia Michaud, who got vaccinated with her husband, Richard. "They took our names, they sent us down the line and we got our shot. We were maybe there 15 minutes, maybe 20 minutes, and it was fabulous."

Beard said only 10 of the 322 people vaccinated at the county clinic on Tuesday didn't have an appointment. Starting Wednesday, however, no one without an appointment will be accepted, she said.

Other vaccination options are available for residents who can't get through to Wake County's system:

  • UNC Health has 17 clinics open across the region
  • Duke Health also has a number of sites open and can put people on a waitlist

Wake County leaders created the waitlist system so people wouldn't have to stand in lines or line up in vehicles to get a vaccine. Instead, once people join the waitlist, they will get a call when a vaccine appointment becomes available.

"We have done the best that we can to create a system that will be user-friendly and seamless," Calabria said

If you qualify for a vaccine, you can register for the waitlist by calling 919-250-1515 or visiting wakegov.com/vaccine.

Callers will be asked about eligibility, whether they have a primary care physician and for their name, phone number and email address. They will then be added to the waiting list.

"This is not a first-come, first-served system. We are prioritizing those in greatest need. If you are 75 and up, we are prioritizing you. We're also prioritizing folks who used to be in the [Phase] 1A qualification," Calabria said.

Phase 1A included health care workers treating COVID-19 patients and residents and staff of long-term care facilities. North Carolina recently reworked its vaccination priority list and did away with the Phase 1A designation.

In addition to age, risk of contracting the virus will be used to determine where someone winds up on the waitlist.

As the county gets doses, those on the waiting list will be notified via phone, email or text message, and they will then have the opportunity to schedule an appointment, either over the phone or online.

According to the county website, the wait could be “several weeks to months before you are contacted for an appointment."

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