Following a flood of demand yesterday, Fairfax County plans to launch a new online vaccine registration system as early as tomorrow that will allow residents to schedule an appointment according to the county’s Information Technology Department.
On Friday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced that the Fairfax Health District is one of several districts in the state to jumpstart the next phase of vaccinations — phase 1b. The first priority group in this phase is adults age 75 and older, followed by priority groups like police and grocery store workers.
The new system, which is currently under development, follows a pre-registration tool that was launched by the county on Monday after overwhelming demand for scheduling jammed county phone lines and flooded the overall system. The pre-registration form, which is currently open, includes pre-screening questions and was launched earlier than originally anticipated in order to shift demand from the county’s phone line to the online system. Pre-registered residents will likely be contacted via email by the county to complete the registration process.
At an IT committee meeting today, some members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors were dismayed by the initial rollout of the registration system and phone line. Overall, the county received nearly 1.2 million calls on its vaccine hotline yesterday. Within the first hour that the phone line went up, the system was jammed.
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 on 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.
His office 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.
For example, more than 286,000 voicemails were left on the county’s vaccination line yesterday alone. So far, the county hopes to automate as much of the registration process — including administration of the vaccine’s second dose — as much as possible.
Residents will likely receive an email about registering for the second dose, according to the county’s health department.
Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, who chairs the IT committee, also encouraged the county to ensure the registration form is friendly for seniors. The first version of the preregistration form sent yesterday made providing a cell phone a required field, for example.
The new registration form is expected to be available as early as tomorrow, pending final testing and revisions.