GREAT FALLS — A lot of people were frustrated Thursday after trying to sign up online to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Great Falls. What many thought would be a relatively simple process to sign up for an appointment to receive the vaccine turned out to be anything but. The registration window opened at 9 a.m., and all 1,500 slots were filled within a few minutes.
"It was frustrating,” said Melode Gall, who tried to get her husband an appointment. "The first screen you got was 'put in the birth date of the person.' So I put in his birth date. the first screen that came up said 'You are blocked from this site' all in red, so I hit refresh. Nothing happened. I went back out, came back into it, put in his birth date, then the screen came up (saying) 'All appointments are filled'." She tried with both her phone and computer as soon as the appointments became available, but no luck.
"It took forever online to get downloading going,” Debbie Quinby said about the sign up process. Quinby unsuccessfully tried to get her mother signed up. With no luck, she called the hospital but didn't have any luck there either. "I tried at least 75 times,” Quinby said.
Kirk Wetzel also unsuccessfully tried to sign up his mother. "I just felt that Benefis so badly mishandled the way that this works and I don't understand why nobody couldn't see that coming,” said Wetzel.
Benefis, which is working with Alluvion, the Great Falls Clinic, and the City-County Health Department to administer the vaccines, says there is no one system that is perfect and says this system worked liked it was supposed to.
"I'm sure we'll make tweaks along the way in terms of streamlining the process in anyway we can and I'm sure, as with anything like this, there are always some takeaways of things that might be able to be done differently here or there,” said Kaci Husted, Benefis VP of Communication & Business Development.
As for who did get one of the 1,500 available appointments? Husted said other than the age requirement there's no way to control who signs up, meaning people who are not local may have been able to get an appointment. “Certainly, in a situation like this we hope people are using good judgment and not gaming the system,” Husted said.
Several people have speculated that employees of the healthcare organizations may have tried to "game" the system by signing up themselves or family members, but we have not seen any evidence of such. Some employees of Benefis publicly posted that they were not able to register family members during today's brief window of registration.
ANOTHER ROUND OF VACCINATIONS
The CCHD on Thursday announced that there will be another round of COVID vaccine sign-ups next week. Registration will open at 9 a.m. on Thursday, January 28, and the appointments will be for Monday, February 1, Wednesday, February 3, and Friday, February 5. At this point, health officials do not know exactly how many vaccinations will be available.
Who: Montana’s 1B vaccination tier has been defined to include anyone who is age 70 or older or meets certain other health criteria. However, given that the number of Cascade County residents who fall into tier 1B currently exceeds vaccine supply, we are limiting vaccine administration to only those who are age 70 and older at this time.
When: Registration will begin at 9 a.m. on Thursday, January 28. These will be for appointments on Monday, February 1; Wednesday, February 3; and Friday, February 5. Slots will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis.
How: Appointments must be scheduled by clicking here: Benefis.org/COVIDvaccine. If you do not have access to a computer, please call 406-455-2500 between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Thursday, January 28. You will be required to provide a valid email address to book your appointment, regardless of whether you schedule online or via phone.
WHERE: Vaccinations will take place at Montana ExpoPark's Family Living Center (400 3rd Street NW). You must preschedule an appointment to receive the vaccine. If you do not have an appointment, you will be turned away.
You must present a valid form of identification at the scheduled time of your vaccine. If your identification indicates that you are not age 70 or older, you will be turned away even if you have an appointment. At this time, the government is covering the cost of the vaccine so there is no cost to the patient/recipient. Signing up to receive the vaccine is voluntary - there is no government mandate or law that requires members of the public to receive the vaccine.