Fairfax County to Launch New Vaccine Registration System After Overwhelming Demand Jams System

Following a flood of demand yesterday, Fairfax County plans to launch a new online COVID-19 vaccine registration system as early as tomorrow that will allow residents to schedule an appointment, the county’s information technology department told the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors during an information technology committee meeting today.

Virignia Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Friday (Jan. 8) that the Fairfax Health District is one of several districts in the state to jumpstart the next phase of vaccinations. Priority groups in this phase include adults age 75 and older and frontline essential workers like police and grocery store workers.

Fairfax County introduced a pre-registration tool yesterday (Monday) after overwhelming demand from people looking to schedule an appointment to get vaccinated jammed county phone lines and flooded the overall system.

The pre-registration form determines whether an individual is eligible to get a vaccine dose at this time, but applicants need to wait to be contacted by the Fairfax County Health Department — likely by email — to set up an appointment. The form launched earlier than originally anticipated in order to shift demand from the county’s phone line to the online system.

During the IT committee meeting, some members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors expressed dismay at the initial rollout of the registration system and phone line, which received nearly 1.2 million calls and more than 286,000 voicemails yesterday. The system was jammed within an hour of the phone line going up.

Jeff McKay, the board’s chairman, said that he was concerned the board did not receive information about the issues facing the county until around 6 p.m. yesterday.

“I know it is disappointing that we weren’t better prepared for this,” McKay said. “I will say that we need to be a lot quicker.”

He also noted that residents should be aware that phase 1b is not a first-come, first-serve system. Frontline essential workers will be vaccinated in a pre-determined order, with police, fire, and hazmat workers at the top of the list.

The county is testing out the new system today in cooperation with the Fairfax County Health Department, according to Gregory Scott, director of the county’s department of information technology.

The IT department also plans to implement a virtual system with automated chatbots and work with external vendors to help manage call volume. The county also routed some calls to a voice message that said to call back later due to busy phone lines.

“Everybody was in this predicament yesterday morning,” Scott said.

Staff noted that additional manpower may be needed to manage call volume and respond to registration forms to sort out missing or conflicting information.

Fairfax County hopes to automate as much of the registration process as much as possible. For instance, the county health department says residents who are ready to get a second dose of the vaccine will likely receive an email about registering.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, who chairs the IT committee, encouraged the county to ensure the registration form is friendly for seniors. The first version of the preregistration form that went online yesterday required providing a cell phone, for example.

The new registration form is expected to be available as early as tomorrow, pending final testing and revisions.

Photo via Fairfax County Health Department

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