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State vaccine website should be more useful next week, officials say




Army Spc. Angel Laureano holds a vial of the COVID-19 vaccine, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., Dec. 14, 2020. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

Ohioans appear to be overjoyed that virtually everyone in the state will be eligible for a coronavirus vaccine after March 29. They’re less thrilled about the Get the Shot portal through which people are supposed to schedule vaccines.

The problem is — in Columbus anyway — that you’re likely to log on only to be shown a list of external websites from providers such as Kroger. Log onto those and most likely you’ll learn they’re booked solid.

“Get the Shot website is a joke,” one Twitter user posted on Tuesday. “You then have to check individual pharmacy websites to check for an appointment. It’s a very frustrating process. Too decentralized.”

State officials hope to make it less frustrating next week.

The issue is that the links to external websites aren’t connected to the state scheduling system, health department spokeswoman Alicia Shoults said in an email. The way things work now, vaccine providers that directly interface with the state scheduling system only appear in the portal if they have available appointments. Websites of providers not connected to the system show up no matter what.

Even in the far-flung corners of the state, community pharmacies are said to be booking up their vaccine clinics within three hours of announcing them. So, since the portal only lists vaccine providers within 20 miles of your zip code, all you’re likely to see is a list of links to websites of providers for which state officials have no idea if any appointments are available.

“The portal shows vaccine providers (such as pharmacies, local health departments, and federally qualified health centers) that are directly using the state scheduling system, and other providers’ external websites who currently are not,” Shoults said. “Organizations that are directly using the system are visible when they have available appointments, but the external websites show up whether they do or not.”

An easy-to-use, efficient system is key if Ohio health officials want to quickly immunize 70% of adult Ohioans. Public health experts say that’s the level needed to seriously slow the spread of a virus that is mutating dangerously.

The Ohio Department of Health says it needs cooperation from providers to achieve this mission. For their part, providers would be helped by a better state website because it would help stop the constant calls they’re getting now.

Vaccine production has increased dramatically over the past month.

After dropping the minimum age to be eligible for a shot from 65 to 50 over the previous two weeks, Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday announced that he would drop it to 40 on Friday and to 16 on March 29.

With so many more Ohioans soon to be seeking shots, it’s critical that they find them instead of becoming so frustrated that they give up.

“ODH is aggressively working with providers to use the website or for those that use a system like an electronic health record (EHR), to interface with the state’s system once testing is completed,” Shoults said. “Starting next week, the state expects that residents should be able to go into the portal and see more locations with available appointments to book within the system.”

This story was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.

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