The second phase of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination program opened to sharp criticism Wednesday, with limited supply and intense demand overwhelming a patchwork scheduling system and frustrating legions of seniors desperate to be immunized.
On the first day that people 75 and older, the population most devastated by the coronavirus, could schedule a vaccine appointment, openings were few and far between, while complaints about the process were rampant.
“It’s very upsetting,” said Herb Chasan, 82, who logged onto the state’s website at midnight Wednesday but was unable to arrange immunizations for himself and his 80-year-old wife, Joan, near their Framingham home. “The state should have everything lined up, their ducks in a row. They didn’t do squat, nothing. It’s total unnecessary hassle, aggravation, and stress.”
With online registrations largely available only through individual providers, some seniors and their loved ones raced to sign up for openings that begin Monday. They refreshed Web pages, tested every link, and waited for hours, often to no avail. They described outdated information pages and glitchy websites that put them on hold for a half-hour or more, only to say that no time slots were open.
Governor Charlie Baker urged patience Wednesday, saying appointments will become available as vaccine supply arrives. He said people should keep checking for openings and encouraged relatives and friends to assist seniors who might need help with the online process.
“It’s going to require a certain amount of patience for people to understand that it may take several trips to the website before they’re going to be able to get an appointment,” Baker said. “Unless there is a big change in the federal distribution on this, we do expect that we’re going to end up with more capacity than we have vaccine to serve, which will limit the number of appointments that can be made.”
Baker said that the state is working to create “additional resources” to help people book appointments, and that the administration is “working with other private and public organizations” that support the elderly.
Baker said he understands the scarcity of openings is frustrating but said the Biden administration told state officials this week that more doses should arrive soon. Even as overall shortages hamper the state’s vaccine rollout, state officials acknowledged this week that hundreds of thousands of doses were sitting on freezer shelves in hospitals and the warehouses of pharmacies. The disclosure underscored the logistical difficulties in matching supply to demand.
“We’re obviously pleased to learn that this information is coming from the federal government,” Baker said. “We haven’t received specific details on it yet about the actual size of the increase or the delivery schedule . . . but in the meantime, we’re going to plan ahead with the assumption that our new sites will be able to deliver over 300,000 doses each week by mid-February.”
As the state’s COVID-19 death toll surpassed 14,000, seniors rushed to secure the vaccine Wednesday. Nearly 10,000 appointments were made available at the Springfield and Danvers mass vaccination sites on Wednesday, according to a spokeswoman for the state’s COVID-19 command center. By the afternoon, only a handful were left, she said. On Thursday, another 20,000 appointments will become available at Gillette Stadium and Fenway Park, she said.
On the state’s website, the lack of availability dragged into the afternoon, as pharmacies, health clinics, and larger venues flashed messages that appointments were unavailable. South Boston Community Health Center posted on its website that “all of their appointments are currently full.” Mercy Medical Center in Springfield said it was “managing a high volume of requests” and wasn’t accepting appointment requests.
In Framingham, Chasan and his wife tried two nearby locations without success. They found openings in Springfield, but decided it was too far. They waited in a virtual line for an appointment at a supermarket in Waltham, but 45 minutes later the market’s website said none were available.
As his frustration grew, he contacted a number of elected officials, including state Representative Maria Robinson. Robinson sent him a signup link for the DoubleTree Hotel in Danvers, where appointments were available. But Chasan, who described himself as “pretty computer literate” said he had to upload photos of his driver’s license and insurance card to register, a process he described as a “nightmare.”
”How many seniors can upload a picture?” Chasan said. “You can probably count the number on one hand. How many seniors have cellphones?”
Robinson, who represents Framingham, wrote on Twitter that her inbox was full of messages from constituents who were unable to get appointments. Some were traveling to Connecticut instead, she said.
State Senator Harriet Chandler said on Twitter that her office had heard from dozens of “frustrated constituents.”
“And I expect that is only the tip of the iceberg,” Chandler wrote. “We are trying our best to help, but this website is simply ineffective.”
Susan Holcombe, 80, was up at midnight searching websites for vaccination sites across Cape Cod and as far away as Worcester. Some websites immediately indicated appointments were unavailable, but on others, she spent time inputting information before learning she wouldn’t be able to get one. Holcombe, who lives in Pocasset, said she waited for an hour for a spot at a Stop & Shop in Hyannis only to find out there were no appointments left.
At least one pharmacy — CVS — did make appointments available at midnight, but they filled up at a lightning-fast pace. When every location — Fall River, Greenfield, Hanover, Revere, Newton, Salem, South Yarmouth, and Wayland — was checked for availability at 1 a.m., all time slots in every pharmacy were fully booked.
Among the tales of frustration, some did secure the slots they were hoping for. Shortly after midnight, Syracuse University student Ghael Fobes landed appointments for his grandparents in Shelburne at a CVS, keeping four computer tabs open in case he ran into any issues.
“I’ve booked tickets to Shawn Mendes that were more difficult to get,” he said.
Laura Krantz of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
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