Software issue leads to vaccine appointment confusion

Posted at 3:22 PM, Feb 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-19 16:38:56-05

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - When Diane Dooley arrived for her second dose vaccine appointment at the Virginia Beach Convention Center on Thursday, she was turned away.

"It's really frustrating. I'm in the dental field and we're the ones saying, 'Take off your mask and breathe on us,' so it's pretty important for us to get vaccinated," said Dooley.

Dooley got her first vaccine dose of Moderna in Portsmouth, but was able to book her second appointment in Virginia Beach through the CDC's vaccine tracking system, which is called the Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS).

VAMS didn't show any available appointments in Portsmouth, Dooley said, so she booked her second one in Virginia Beach. When she arrived at the convention center, she was told she had to go back to Portsmouth.

"I still don't have my second vaccine, and don't know how I'm going to get my second one," she said in an interview Thursday.

Following calls and emails from News 3, Dooley was able to book an appointment on Friday afternoon.

On Friday, the Virginia Beach Public Health Department also responded to the situation, saying a number of people came to Virginia Beach for their second appointments this week despite having received their first shot at a different location.

They now say they will allow people to receive their second shot at the convention center if they booked their second appointment through VAMS. Still, they would prefer people return to the site of their first dose to get their second dose.

They turned people away because of how the vaccines are given out by the state. If someone gets their first dose at a location, that location is automatically sent their second dose. If someone goes to a different location, VDH says that could make it harder to fulfill vaccine commitments.

They also say the software issue that allowed people to book vaccines this way has been corrected, so this shouldn't be an issue in the future.

People booking their first appointments now are using a different system than VAMS called PReMod, so the issue shouldn't come up for people making appointments now.

Related: Forwarded links creating more confusion, frustration in vaccine rollout

PReMod has experienced its own issues, including non-unique links where people can forward each other links to book appointments.

The Portsmouth Health Department said they are working to get in touch with people who were turned away and said others will get an email a week before their vaccine due date to schedule an appointment for their second dose.

Below is the Virginia Department of Health's full statement:

It is very important that people schedule their second dose vaccination appointment with the same health district that administered their first dose vaccine. However, in collaboration with several local health districts, VBDPH will provide second dose vaccination to individuals with legitimately scheduled appointments, regardless of where they received the first dose. Staff will keep track of individuals who received their first shot in another district to identify trends and adjust messaging and vaccine supply as necessary.

From the beginning, Virginia Beach Department of Public Health (VBDPH) has committed to guaranteeing a second dose vaccine for everyone who receives their first dose from VBDPH. To ensure timely availability of sufficient vaccine for second doses, vaccine distribution throughout the state has involved careful planning to ship second dose quantities automatically to the health district where the first dose was administered. If an individual who received their first dose from another health district were to seek their second dose in Virginia Beach, they would be, in essence, taking a second dose and appointment slot reserved for someone who received their first dose in Virginia Beach, making it difficult for VBDPH to fulfill its obligation to provide second dose shots for everyone who received a first dose from the health district.

Over the past week, a number of individuals from other health districts came to Virginia Beach for their second doses. Previously, the Centers for Disease Control’s vaccine tracking system, Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS) allowed anyone with an account to see and schedule an appointment at closed vaccine distribution clinics across the country. This feature allowed people who did not originally get vaccinated in Virginia Beach to schedule their second doses at the Convention Center. Unfortunately, the system does not allow VBDPH to see where someone who has an appointment in VAMS originally received their first dose of vaccine. It wasn’t until people physically arrived at the Convention Center clinic to check in with a vaccination card from another health district that VBDPH staff realized that they had not been vaccinated in Virginia Beach. This issue with the software has since been corrected. VBDPH does not anticipate that this will be a problem for future appointments.
Virginia Department of Health

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