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Older baby boomers are relieved by vaccine eligibility — and ready to scramble for appointments

After the new eligibility rules were announced Wednesday, Governor Charlie Baker said, about 250,000 people flooded the state's appointment-booking website and caused brief crashes.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Bill Kendall made his weekly grocery trip a day early, on Wednesday, clearing his Thursday schedule to focus on his long-awaited goal of securing a precious vaccine appointment.

“I know tomorrow I’m going to be on that website all day,” the Weymouth resident said, of the state’s online portal. “I’m just planning on that being all consuming.”

Kendall, 71, is one of about 1 million Massachusetts residents who will be newly eligible for COVID-19 immunization Thursday, after the Baker administration announced it would open appointments for people 65 and over and those with two or more chronic health problems.

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Kendall hopes to score an appointment early enough to allow him to feel safe traveling to North Carolina for the birth of his granddaughter in late March. But he also expects intense competition for the limited spots through mass vaccination sites, regional vaccine collaboratives, pharmacies, and other locations.

The concern is well-founded: After the new eligibility rules were announced Wednesday morning, about 250,000 people flooded to the appointment-booking website and caused brief crashes, before Governor Charlie Baker said new appointments would appear online Thursday morning.

The clamor underscores the enthusiasm and frustration among the state’s oldest baby boomers, many of whom have complained that the vaccine eligibility was not opening quickly enough. Some have been intensely seeking signs of when Baker might expand eligibility, monitoring web platforms like a star chart to gauge available appointments and unused vaccine dosages.

“It was imminent that they’d move into the next group, because I’ve been watching the appointments — not to get one, but just to try to see the availability. I figured it would probably be next week at the latest,” said Thomas Ackerman, 66, of Lynnfield.

Ackerman said his wife was able to secure a weekend appointment at a nearby pharmacy as early as Wednesday afternoon, though he had not been able to find one. The state’s web portal did not yet allow for such bookings Wednesday afternoon.

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The expected surge in vaccine hunters on Thursday will mark a new test for the much-criticized online appointment system, which forces residents to search among multiple reservation systems run by pharmacies and health providers, each with different application processes.

Last week, the state introduced a streamlined version of the site that clears away some of the complexity, but both state legislators and members of Congress say more streamlining is needed, especially for older people uncomfortable with the internet.

“To make a website that’s really usable, nonconfusing, and useful is hard,” explained Charles Wallace, associate professor of computer science at Michigan Technological University and a specialist in digital literacy for seniors. “When you throw something together quickly, the results are almost always subpar, and leaves people confused.”

And not everybody in the new cohort who wants an appointment will get one right away. Since this marks the largest expansion of the vaccination program yet, Baker warned that it may take more than a month to book appointments for all of the 65-and-up age group unless the federal government vastly increases vaccine supplies.

But for Cambridge resident Marie Cieri, just knowing she can now at least try to schedule a vaccine is a relief.

“My frustration level was much greater up until this morning,” Cieri said. “And now I’m prepared for it to take me a month to get an appointment.”

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Still, the 69-year-old pledged she would be online early Thursday morning to jump into the scramble for appointments, and was prepared to travel anywhere in the state for a shot.

“I’ve got the websites open on my computer already,” she said.

Hiawatha Bray of the Globe staff contributed to this report.