As local organizations offer online appointments for COVID-19 vaccines, residents are running into technical issues that are making it challenging to secure an appointment.
Some have reported difficulties finding the link to the health department clinics on the state’s vaccine website. Others have said they answered a lengthy list of questions on the sign-up website only to find there were no longer available appointments. Many have said they just aren’t comfortable using technology.
Gallatin County and the state Department of Public Health and Human Services said they are working to improve the sign-up process.
“The system is slated for a number of changes as users provide feedback on what can be improved or as certain issues are identified,” said Jon Ebelt, a DPHHS spokesperson. He was referring to PrepMod, the software the state has offered to local vaccine providers to manage distribution.
Those involved in vaccine distribution in Gallatin County are constantly reviewing their processes to find ways to improve, said Bozeman Deputy Fire Chief Mike Maltaverne.
“We know the frustration,” said Maltaverne, who is the incident commander for local vaccine distribution. “We have friends, family and acquaintances struggling to get appointments.”
The state and county have already addressed some issues with vaccine distribution.
The county has bolstered the health department website after it crashed briefly a few weeks ago due to high visitation, Maltaverne said.
After hearing feedback following the first opportunity for public sign-up in early February, the county offered more information on how to secure an appointment when it announced the second public clinic.
The state has updated PrepMod, the sign-up software, to provide information on appointment availability before people fill out the required forms, Ebelt said.
The Gallatin City-County Health Department has not offered public vaccine sign-ups since Feb. 12 but plans to open more opportunities in the future.
To prepare for the next local clinic, Maltaverne suggested people visit the sign-up website, mtreadyclinic.org, to familiarize themselves with the platform. He also recommended people review the health department website and sign up for the local emergency notification system, instructions for which are on healthygallatin.org.
“Even if you prepare, it’s still a competitive process, which is terrible to say because we’re in the middle of a pandemic,” he said. “So you may not get an appointment.”
Because of the limitations of the online system, it is just one way residents are getting vaccinated.
For instance, the health department worked with Bozeman Creek Family Health and Bozeman Clinic, as well as the Human Resource Development Council and Bozeman Senior Center, to reach people directly to schedule them for vaccine appointments.
Bozeman Health, which is also hosting vaccine clinics, is also using the PrepMod platform, said Lauren Brendel, a spokesperson for the health system.
Bozeman Health is emailing a sign-up link to patients eligible for a vaccine. But Brendel said because some people aren’t comfortable using online forms, there is an option in the sign-up email for people to indicate they would like to be called directly to schedule an appointment.
Other health organizations are also trying get around technology issues.
Community Health Partners, another local vaccine provider, sent out more than a thousand letters last week to patients eligible for a vaccine, said Buck Taylor, a spokesperson for CHP.
The letter had a link people could use to sign up and a number to call for those who would rather schedule by phone.
“We wanted to make sure to be able to do outreach and get folks in who fall into that category,” Taylor said. “We know that they can be less computer savvy and certainly less consumers of social media.”
Even with the sign-up challenges, Gallatin County is getting the doses it receives into arms, but the demand continues to outpace supply. As of Monday, about 68,000 Montanans were fully vaccinated and 80,000 had received only their first dose.
“There are about 35,000 residents in Phase 1B, and we are now getting about 1,300 doses per week, so it’s a lottery,” Maltaverne said. “If we had more shots to give out, maybe it would be less frustrating. But for now, it’s a waiting game.”