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In-Depth: Vaccination seekers left frustrated after Walgreens 'glitch'

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Posted at 5:31 PM, Feb 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-09 18:58:18-05

CLEVELAND — An apparent “glitch” in Walgreens’ vaccination appointment scheduling system has led to confusion and frustration on whether COVID-19 vaccines are, in fact, available to those who signed up on Monday.

Walgreens acknowledged the issues after press time on Tuesday evening. A representative said the pharmacy giant is in the process of notifying affected customers.

"As vaccine availability continues to be a rapidly evolving situation, some customers in Ohio were mistakenly informed it would not be possible to fulfill their appointment. We are currently in the process of reaching back out to these individuals to confirm their vaccination appointment," the statement reads. "We are very committed to honoring vaccination appointments that have been scheduled in our system and are actively working to ensure eligible individuals are able to schedule their vaccinations. Many people who signed up for appointments on Monday were only notified of the problem when they called their local stores."

Michelle Sefcik signed up for her husband to receive the vaccine and received emails confirming the appointments for the first and second doses of the vaccines. The confirmation emails, which she shared with News 5, also contained confirmation numbers, guides on the necessary paperwork, as well as the location of the appointment.

Sefcik’s excitement Monday evening turned into anger by Tuesday morning when a friend’s social media post alerted her to the issue.

“We thought we were done. I was excited. I was able to get this really quickly and easily. They had availability in other locations too,” Sefcik said. “I spoke to the pharmacist and they verified that they do not have vaccines and this should not have been a live situation where people could get online and book this. It should not have happened. Basically, they said this was a mistake, a glitch in their computer system, and they shouldn’t have been able to do any of the scheduling in Ohio but they did. Now they have to get ahold of all these people and cancel all these appointments.”

Similarly, Barb Dragony of Avon said she was able to secure an appointment to receive the vaccine at a location in Avon Lake before the pharmacist told her Tuesday that the vaccines weren’t available. Then, late Tuesday afternoon, Dragony said she was told that a vaccine was, in fact, available.

“There are a bunch of people that thought they had appointments today that have nothing,” Dragony said. “It’s extremely frustrating. Granted, it's the very first day when our age group (Ohioans 65 and older) was opening up. I understand the frustrations that everyone is having: the pharmacies, the people with the vaccines. It’s a tough time.”

This latest misstep by Walgreens, which also did not properly store a number of vaccine doses earlier this month, comes as Ohio puts the finishing touches on its own online portal, which will allow users to see available appointments from vaccine providers. Further details on the website and its functionality are expected on Thursday, Gov. Mike DeWine said.

“You'll put your ZIP code in or you put your county in and it will direct you to [any vaccine provider] who has signed up to be part of the system,” DeWine said Tuesday. “We've asked our providers to sign up and you will then be able to navigate that. You should be able to see what places have vaccines and you'll be able to go in there and then schedule directly. The goal is to be able to schedule directly into that site.”

However, DeWine also said that hospitals have insisted on maintaining their own signup system. Users of the state’s portal that are seeking vaccinations at a nearby hospital will instead be redirected to that provider’s website.“

There will be a way you can link into that and then you go actually into their system and schedule into their system,” DeWine said. “It does not alleviate the challenge for someone who does not know how to navigate the internet or doesn’t have a computer. We have asked [providers] to provide a phone number.”

Currently, just under 10% of the state’s population has received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and Ohioans 65 and older began to qualify for the vaccine on Monday. However, after the appointment issues with Walgreens, Sefcik is worried that her hunt for an available appointment will have to be done all over again.“

"There is nothing really they can do to correct this. It affected a lot of people besides me and my husband. It has affected a lot of people,” Sefcik said. “I could have spent this morning trying to get him into a different location that actually has vaccines. I didn’t do that because I thought I was scheduled and it was a done deal. There is no accountability right now for anybody other than the people who are being called and told about this. They’re apologizing on behalf of Walgreens but it’s not them that should be apologizing. It’s the upper-level management that should be apologizing.”