BUFFALO, N.Y. — 2 On Your Side has heard from a lot of people who can't find an appointment for the COVID-19 vaccine online for themselves or loved ones, so we went to the state to find out what's going on.
On Monday morning, we specifically told the New York State Department of Health that viewers are saying they can't get through on the state's hotline or on the web. And we asked, what are people in the 65-plus age group in Phase 1B supposed to do? Is there a certain time of day they should be logging-in, or calling, to try to get an appointment at one of the pharmacies? When they go to many of the pharmacy websites, it brings them back to the state website, and says no appointments are available.
A spokesperson for the NYS DOH says, “We continue to do everything possible to get as many New Yorkers vaccinated as quickly as possible. Regarding the hotline, we have launched several new features such as a callback function, a line that is dedicated to seniors, and allocated more staff to the call center. We are also encouraged by the new federal administration’s announcement that we will get a 16 percent greater allocation of vaccine.”
"I understand the frustration. I've spoken to hundreds of people who said I'm eligible, but I can't get it. I sit at a computer and just keep hitting the refresh button looking for a vaccination," said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday.
Cuomo was asked about this during his press conference.
"I understand totally about access to the vaccine and people who are not as affluent, if you will, in use of technology, and that's why on the state level we have a good old fashioned phone number that you can call and talk to a good old fashioned person who can make an appointment for a vaccine and tell you what places are available in your area," Cuomo said.
That hotline is 1-833-NYS-4-VAX or 1-833-697-4829.
While it's been weeks since Phase 1B opened up to people who are 65 and older in New York State, since a lot of people still can't find appointments, one organization wants that to change.
"Going online and constantly having to refresh the page is very, very frustrating in itself," says AARP New York State Director Beth Finkel. "You have to have a lot of patience, and you have to have a little bit more than just normal sophistication on the computer to bear with all the challenges of trying to do this online."
The AARP recently sent a letter to the governor's office sharing concerns with the state about the vaccine rollout.
"We met with them," Finkel said. "We talked with them about the 800 number and how it had to be beefed up. At that point in time, people were waiting over two hours or more to try to get a live operator who could actually take them through the process or give them good advice. In the ensuing time, we understand that that wait period is not more than ten minutes and very likely to be under ten minutes."
The AARP sent out a survey to get responses about people's experiences trying to make appointments to get the vaccine, and it got more than 3,000 responses in less than a day.