'Burdensome' Website Keeps New Yorkers From Getting Vaccine as Doses Are Wasted

A Woman receives a dose of the Moderna coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at a vaccination site at South Bronx Educational Campus, in the Bronx New York on January 10, 2021. (Photo by Kena Betancur / AFP) (Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)
January 11, 2021

Elderly New York City residents seeking to be vaccinated against the coronavirus must navigate a bulky health department website and fill out a lengthy questionnaire prior to receiving the vaccine.

In New York, adults over 75 are now eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine after strict distribution guidelines from Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D.) caused vaccine doses to go to waste. Before receiving the vaccine, however, New York City residents must create an online profile on the city health department’s website, answer a series of required questions regarding their occupation, race, and ethnicity, and upload proof of insurance. From the multi-step profile verification process to the questionnaire, those trying to schedule a vaccine appointment must fill in up to 51 fields. 

New York City comptroller Scott Stringer called the process "burdensome," especially for the elderly, in a tweet Sunday night. 

"The [New York City Health Department] site for signing up for a COVID vaccination is complex, burdensome, and buggy," Stringer tweeted. "It will present an obstacle for too many people—particularly seniors—trying to sign up. This is a major problem." 

Stringer—who's running in New York City's Democratic primary elections in June to replace Mayor Bill de Blasio—said the website creates a dangerous obstacle for those who need the vaccine.

"We can’t force frontline workers and those over 75 to confront a bewildering signup process," Stringer said. "Any barrier to getting shots in arms is only going to prolong the agony of this crisis."

The website trouble comes after vaccine distribution centers disposed of soon-to-be expired vials of the vaccine instead of violating strict state guidelines by giving the vaccine to recipients not included in the initial phase of distribution.

Cuomo issued an executive order on December 28 that threatened distributors with hefty fines if they gave the vaccine—even doses set to expire—to personnel other than those outlined in the phase 1a distribution guidelines. Facilities threw out doses of the vaccine rather than face fines up to $1 million by giving them to the elderly.

Facing criticism over the state's inefficient vaccine rollout, Cuomo moved up phase 1b of the state’s distribution to Monday. Now, adults over 75 can receive the coronavirus vaccine alongside health care workers, school district staff, and grocery store employees. 

Those looking to schedule an appointment must click on the "COVID" tab at the top of the New York City Health Department site, then the "Vaccines" button in the left-hand column. A "Find A COVID-19 Vaccine" button under the "Recent News" section directs users to a search bar, where they can enter their area code to find distribution centers near them. After pressing the "schedule an appointment" button, users are directed to the patient portal, which requires the user to create a password and verify their account via email. 

According to the health department website, those looking to receive the vaccine are required to fill out an additional questionnaire to indicate their job, race, ethnicity, and whether they live alone, with children, or in a communal setting.

"The City must fix this now," Stringer tweeted Sunday. "There is nothing more important. Lives are on the line."