PROVO, Utah — From technical problems to trouble meeting appointment demand, county health departments have faced a wide variety of issues when it comes to scheduling people for their COVID-19 vaccine.
In January, Utah County vaccination appointments were filling up in a matter of minutes. Workers at the county's COVID call center are still taking hundreds of calls every day, but with more staff and vaccine supply to meet the need, things are going much smoother than a few weeks ago.
"We no longer have our appointments booking up in a matter of minutes. It's now taking maybe a day or two, or a little bit longer," said Aislynn Tolman-Hill with the Utah County Health Department. "We've kind of moved along, we've evolved a little bit, but we are seeing some good awareness and things spreading out a little bit throughout the state."
On average, representatives at the call center answer 500 calls every day. They've taken close to 25,000 calls since it opened up in March of last year, with almost 18,000 coming in since appointments began in January.
"We have our call center staffed with 10 people to answer phones, and they go in and out of the queue," said call center lead Carrie Bennett. "If we have appointments, we can schedule people in at that time we will. If not, we provide resources and tell them how they can find our appointments in the future."
Bennett said vaccine supply was the key impact on appointment availability back in January, adding that the call center had to double its staff to 10 representatives to meet the demand.
"In the beginning, we had that shortage of vaccine, we didn't have enough, so we were limited on opening appointments and it caused a lot of chaos," she said.
Utah County opened up a new vaccination site in American Fork Monday. With the increased supply, the county hopes to inoculate 5,000 people per day between their three locations.
"Ultimately, we are looking at trying to be able to do 25,000 a week," Tolman-Hill added. "And that does include first and second doses."
The county began scheduling appointments for Utahns 50 and older starting last Thursday. Bennett says as younger people become eligible for their first dose, the demand on the call center is beginning to flatten out.
"We noticed as the other groups are starting to open, we're not having a problem filling them up," she said. "We're getting less calls needing technical assistance to schedule."
She said the addition of appointment text message alerts has also really helped lighten the load.
"The text message has been a lifesaver," Bennett said. "They don't have to sit and monitor the computer all day — they know exactly when they're going to open, and it's been very helpful."
To receive text updates about COVID-19 vaccine appointment availability in Utah County, text 'UCHEALTH' to 888777.