The online system for seniors in Delaware to sign up to receive the coronavirus vaccine is already getting lots of traffic.
The appointment request system launched by the state went live at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. By 4 p.m., more than 56,000 Delawareans age 65 or older had signed up, according to the Division of Public Health. Those who sign up will receive invitations to be vaccinated in drive-through events based on risk factors such as age and medical condition.
The state’s COVID-19 website was slow loading for some users Wednesday morning because of high traffic, a spokesperson for the Division of Public Health says, but the website and registration were operational at all times.
Delaware officially entered phase 1B of its vaccine distribution plan Tuesday — after a weekend of drive-through vaccination events for 1A groups, in which some outside of the eligible groups received vaccinations, and a “soft launch” of senior vaccinations in Wilmington.
Phase 1B makes seniors, as well as frontline essential workers—such as teachers, childcare workers, USPS workers, police and poultry workers—eligible for the vaccine.
But state public health director Dr. Karyl Rattay says those profession-based groups will likely get the vaccine later. The state reports fewer than 37,000 doses currently available, while about 200,000 people are eligible under 1B.
“Right now, we really want to get as much vaccine available to those who are 65 and over, simply because we want to save lives, and we want to prevent hospitalizations,” Rattay said in an interview Wednesday.
More than 80 percent of Delaware's COVID-related deaths have been among individuals age 65 or older.
Vaccinations are free to all Delawareans. Signing up to request an appointment for those 65 and older requires basic information such as date of birth, address and general pre-existing conditions. It does not require medical records or health insurance.
According to the state’s My Healthy Community website, Delaware had received a total of nearly 87,000 doses as of Wednesday afternoon — and had administered close to 60 percent. The CDC reports more than 100,000 doses of the vaccine distributed to Delaware as of Wednesday morning. A state Division of Public Health spokesperson says the CDC figure includes doses reserved for the federal pharmacy partnership for long-term care facilities, while the My Healthy Community Vaccine Tracker does not.
Rattay says the state is currently receiving about 12,000 to 14,000 doses from the federal government per week, but that there’s no predictability.
“We don’t know from week to week what we’re going to be receiving, but it’s relatively small amounts,” she said. “We are really eager to get more doses.”
Rattay says one of the state’s motivations for entering phase 1B was to demonstrate to the federal government Delaware’s ability to move doses. She says she spoke with Army Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operating officer for Operation Warp Speed, last week.
“He said they don’t really know what this is going to look like, but states who aren’t doing well could be penalized,” she said. “We aren’t in that category of states that aren’t doing well, but nonetheless, it’s important to us to get every dose into Delawareans as fast as we can.”
An analysis by the Washington Post of CDC and state data as of Wednesday afternoon shows Delaware ranks 35th among states for percent of the population vaccinated with a first dose.
In a virtual question and answer session Tuesday night, Gov. John Carney admitted vaccine distribution under phase 1A was slower than intended.
“Two or three weeks into it, we were sitting with more vaccines in the warehouse in refrigerators, freezers, than were in people’s arms,” he said. “We were hearing a lot from the public about why weren't things going faster, and we were asking ourselves why can’t our partners move a little faster.”
Rattay said Wednesday that one of the main reasons for slow distribution in phase 1A was vaccine hesitancy among healthcare personnel.
“1A still has an opportunity to get vaccinated, but now that we’ve moved on, it may be harder for them to get vaccinated,” Rattay said. “The focus right now is 1B.”
Nursing home residents and staff, also eligible under phase 1A, will continue to be vaccinated under the federal pharmacies partnership.
The first drive-through vaccination event for seniors is Friday at the Delaware City Division of Motor Vehicles. An appointment confirmed by the state is required.
Saturday and Sunday, January 23 and 24, events will be held at both the Delaware City and Georgetown DMV locations.
There will be other vaccination options specific to K-12 educators, child care workers, correctional officers and other essential workers. The state plans to expand vaccination options, including through pharmacies and primary care providers, in the coming weeks.
Those receiving the vaccine should continue to take precautions to prevent spread of the virus, even after being vaccinated. Necessary precautions include wearing face coverings, practicing social distancing, avoiding hosting or attending large gatherings, and washing and sanitizing hands frequently.
If you’re 65 or older, sign up to request a vaccination appointment here. Those without computer access can call the COVID-19 Vaccine Call Center at 1-833-643-1715 and a call center operator can assist you in making the initial request.