(FOX 9) - Minnesota seniors rushed to the state's online portal for scheduling COVID-19 vaccination appointments Tuesday afternoon, causing the website to crash and calls to be dropped.
As of 4 p.m., 5,000 people ages 65 and older had been booked for appointments and many more had been put on a waitlist. State officials said their vendor, Primary Bio, was unprepared for the extremely high traffic, but planned to stick with the firm for upcoming signup periods.
"While our vendor assured us that they were ready for extremely high traffic today, that traffic clearly exceeded expectations," Tarek Tomes, the state's IT commissioner, told reporters on a conference call. "We will be working with them to apply what we learned today to make the system work in the long run."
The portal went live at 12 p.m. and immediately got overloaded. People got error messages when they dialed two numbers provided by the health department. Online, many got stuck in a virtual waiting room before the website temporarily crashed.
State officials said the problem was not with the state's server but with Primary Bio. Health officials said they never stopped taking appointments. This week, 6,000 slots were made available for people 65 and older.
State officials said the problem was not with the state's server but with Primary Bio. Health officials said they never stopped taking appointments but close the system to new users. This week, 6,000 slots were made available for people 65 and older.
The sign-up window opened Tuesday for appointments on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
"I don’t think it would be fair to characterize this as the result of hurrying," Kris Ehresmann, the state's infectious disease director, said of the sign-up issues. "I think this is the result of an incredible pent-up demand for vaccines and an incredibly limited supply."
Sandy Hendrikson of Burnsville estimated that she called 100 times over more than an hour Tuesday afternoon before giving up.
"I tried for about an hour and then I thought, enough is enough," Hendrikson said in an interview. "I just want this over with. But at least I’m not sick, so I’m counting my blessings."
Others enlisted their children to call on separate phone lines in the hopes of flooding the system. It worked for Mel and Carol Tollefson of Bloomington, who booked appointments for Thursday afternoon.
"It’s like we won the lottery, because I know all these other people are trying, even good friends of ours, have been trying and trying with no success," Mel Tollefson said in an interview.
State Sen. Karin Housley, who chairs the Senate's Aging committee, slammed the rollout and said Minnesota should put its oldest residents first because deaths and hospitalizations disproportionately hit that population.
Housley, R-St. Marys Point, said she had little confidence that the issues would be fixed by next Tuesday's signup window.
"I can guarantee you, next week Tuesday, the website will be down, phone lines will be all backed up. This is not the right system. We already have clinics in place that are ready to do this," Housley said in an interview.
As of Tuesday, 200,130 people have been received at least one dose in Minnesota and 38,025 have gotten both doses. The numbers are as of Friday because of a three-day reporting lag.
Minnesota is opening nine pilot vaccination sites across the state this week that will begin administering shots to people 65 and older as well as teachers and child care workers.
Employers will notify teachers and child care workers if they have been selected to receive a vaccination appointment, but people 65 and older could go online beginning at noon on Tuesday to make an appointment to receive their vaccine at one of the nine pilot sites.