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State vaccine sign-up website crashes, dashing hopes of tens of thousands of newly eligible Massachusetts residents

Frustrated vaccine hunters infuriated by “vax insanity”

Juanita Siggers, 82, of Dorchester received the vaccine from Eliot Holop at a site in Mattapan targeting communities hit hardest by the pandemic.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Tens of thousands of newly eligible Massachusetts residents eager to use the state’s vaxfinder tool to book COVID-19 shots Thursday encountered a maelstrom of website crashes, system errors, and notices telling them there were many available appointments — but they were out of reach.

The “vax insanity,” as infuriated vaccine hunters dubbed it, dashed the hopes of residents age 65 to 74 and those with two or more chronic health conditions who qualified for the vaccine as of Thursday morning. They thought they could be inoculated soon against a relentless coronavirus that has forced millions into virtual isolation for much of the past year.


“It’s frustrating,” said John Giudice, 68, of Lexington, who likened the experience to being trampled by a mob of baby boomers racing to buy tickets to a Rolling Stones concert. “Everyone is rushing for the door at the same time.”

In another setback Thursday, state officials said their federal counterparts had notified them that part of this week’s scheduled vaccine shipment to Massachusetts was delayed and won’t arrive till Monday. The officials didn’t specify how many of the 139,000 committed doses will be coming late, but said the tie-up was due to weather conditions and staffing shortages at vaccine production plants.

The delay created further uncertainty for those struggling to secure shots. Baker administration officials said they were asking providers to determine how fewer doses will impact appointments already scheduled, but said people who had booked injections in the coming days should plan to go unless told otherwise.

State officials had warned Wednesday, even before the shipment delay, that it could take more than a month before all newly eligible residents who want shots are able to book injection slots.

Despite the balky website, the state reported Thursday night that 60,000 residents had managed to reserve appointments through sheer persistence or dumb luck. But many thousands more, who began refreshing their browsers in the hours before 8 a.m., when state officials had promised to post 70,000 new vaccine slots on their website, had given up, at least temporarily.


“The administration sincerely apologizes for the frustration and inconvenience our residents experienced over the course of the day,’' state officials said in a statement Thursday night. A state vendor, PrepMod, took responsibility for the crash.

By day’s end, state officials said there were no remaining slots at the Fenway, Foxboro, Danvers, Natick, Dartmouth and Springfield sites. A “small number of appointments’' will become available at other locations over the next few days.

The breakdown, which a chastened Governor Charlie Baker vowed to fix, was the latest stumble in a state vaccine rollout marked by both supply constraints and increasingly vocal demands by segments of the population, from teachers to transit workers to meat packers, seeking faster access and complaining of being left behind.

“My hair’s on fire about the whole thing,” Baker said of the website fiasco during an afternoon interview on GBH radio. “I can’t even begin to tell you how pissed off I am, and people are working really hard to get it fixed. And we know how important it is for people to have it fixed and to be able to access all those new appointments that went up.”

Baker said he wanted to make clear he understood “the pain and the suffering and the tumult and the crisis that COVID and some of the decisions we had to make to deal with it has created for people.” He added that “the rockiness that those of us in public life might have to deal with feel like nothing by comparison.”


Thursday’s problems threatened to overshadow signs of progress in the Massachusetts vaccination push.

The number of coronavirus vaccinations administered in Massachusetts rose by 57,648 to 1,267,262, state officials reported. But only 329,989 residents have received the required two vaccine doses need to get full immunity. The state goal is to fully immunize 4.1 million adults with both doses in the coming months.

In a letter to political supporters Wednesday, obtained by the Globe, the governor cited statistics showing the state’s rankings have recently improved in measures such as shots injected per capita. For months, it lagged most other states.

“While we can only move as fast as the federal government delivers the vaccines, rest assured we are doing everything we can to administer the doses as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Baker wrote to his backers in the letter.

With the state expanding its eligibility ranks, almost 1 million more residents qualified for shots Thursday. About 1.1 million had previously been eligible, including health workers, first responders, and long-term-care residents.

State Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders, who heads the COVID-19 Command Center, told lawmakers in a conference call there were nearly 2 million clicks on the state’s vaccine website in the morning, according to state Representative Maria Robinson of Framingham. Despite the malfunction, tens of thousands of posted slots were snapped up within an hour, the lawmakers were told.


“Everyone’s extremely anxious to get appointments as soon as possible,” Robinson said Thursday. But, she added, “Even if the website worked, there are many people over 65 who wouldn’t have been able to get appointments because of the supply.”

Many who tried to access vaxfinder.mass.gov before 8 a.m. received a message that “this application crashed.” Some took to social media to share their frustration with not being able to get to the site. Shortly before 10 a.m., the state website was back up and could be accessed intermittently.

Then, at 11:17 a.m., the state’s Twitter account said all slots at the mass vaccination sites in Springfield, Danvers, Natick, and Dartmouth had been booked for the next week.

State lawmakers said they wanted to get to the bottom of the mess. A new legislative oversight panel asked Baker and Sudders to answer questions about the vaccine rollout at a hearing next Thursday, though it was unclear if they would comply.

“Massachusetts residents are feeling frustration and anger on a day when we should be experiencing hope,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka. “We expect answers from those responsible for this failure. The administration must deliver a better experience for our residents, who have already dealt with so much anxiety and disruption.”


The website problems also drew a reaction in Washington.

US Representative Katherine Clark, a Melrose Democrat who’s the fourth-ranking member of her party in the House, tweeted Thursday that the state needs to accommodate the level of demand for appointments.

“It’s no surprise #MA residents are eager to be vaccinated,” Clark’s tweet said. “What we need is a system that matches the volume. With a waitlist, residents wouldn’t have to flood a website every minute or hour, or be scrambling from link to link. We need to do better.”

Despite the website snafu, the mass vaccination sites at Gillette Stadiumand Fenway Park continued to operate Thursday, according to CIC Health, the company running the operation at both stadiums. Other injection sites also remained open through the day.

Thursday’s website issues were an unpleasant echo of a day of frustration only two weeks earlier. After Baker announced last month that residents 75 and older could book appointments Feb. 1, many seniors or their loved ones spent hours trying without success to find an available slot.

Monica Nelson of Newburyport, who recalled spending hours on her computer in the early hours of the morning then trying to secure an appointment for her husband, said in an e-mail that she was out of luck again when she tried to book an appointment for herself Thursday.

“At least we’re not doing this at 2 a.m., but unfortunately the results are the same,” she said.

Shannon Larson, Deanna Pan, and Matt Stout of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

Robert Weisman can be reached at robert.weisman@globe.com. Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com. Follow her @cprignano. Emily Sweeney can be reached at emily.sweeney@globe.com. Follow her @emilysweeney and on Instagram @emilysweeney22. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.