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How do I sign up to get a COVID-19 vaccine?

Nancy and Ira Wikstrom were first in line for doses of a COVID-19 vaccine at a new site in Ridgefield, Washington on Jan. 26, 2021. The site opened to deliver more than 700 vaccines per day.
Troy Brynelson
Nancy and Ira Wikstrom were first in line for doses of a COVID-19 vaccine at a new site in Ridgefield, Washington on Jan. 26, 2021. The site opened to deliver more than 700 vaccines per day.

Oregon started rolling out COVID-19 vaccines Monday to people age 80 and over. It’s the first stage of Oregon’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout to seniors. Over the course of the next four weeks, the number of people eligible to get vaccinated will more than double, as people 65 and over become eligible, one age bracket at a time. How each person will get vaccinated will depend on where they live — the process is going to look very different in every county. Oregon Health Authority officials anticipate “chaos” as new systems are tested.

The Oregon Health Authority announced a number of new changes last week to its website. During the first phase of the vaccine rollout, some groups — such as health care workers who aren’t affiliated with a major system, or at-home caretakers — were overlooked or had difficulty getting a vaccine.

OHA is rolling out a number of new tools to help fill those gaps. aimed at targeting some of the cracks exposed in the initial phases of reopening. But those tools, and those in place previously, have yet to be tested with such a broad group of people. And if there’s one thing we’ve learned this pandemic, it’s that any website, well-designed or not, can be confusing and crash if it gets overloaded.

“I don’t think anyone’s under the illusion that the things we’re putting in place will create an immediate, seamless experience for every senior,” OHA Communications Director Robb Cowie said, “And we know, particularly for the senior population, technology is not always easy.”

To try to make things a bit less confusing, here’s a list of resources that includes frequently asked questions, troubleshooting tips, and guidance for those who aren’t yet eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Oregon Health Authority determines who is eligible to be vaccinated, and decides how many vaccines from the state’s weekly shipments will be sent to each county. The details of how each county’s portion will be distributed is up to local public health authorities. The best way to get vaccines to folks in the Portland area will be very different than the best way to get vaccines to folks in Harney County, so rollouts will look very different in each of Oregon’s counties.

Some counties have already been using their allotments of vaccines to target groups that fell through the gaps in other parts of the rollout. Some counties will also move faster than others: some counties already began vaccinating people 80 and older last week, when they finished vaccinating people who were already eligible and wanted the vaccine.

This week, vaccinations are only available for people 80 and older and people who were already eligible Here’s what we know about who comes next. Other seniors may be able to schedule vaccinations for future dates starting today as well, but that will change on a county-by-county basis.

That’s almost 800,000 additional people, and there are still people in group 1a who have yet to receive the vaccine. Oregon is expected to receive about 75,000 first doses of vaccine each week, though that number may rise as more vaccines become available. The Oregon Health Authority estimates that at this rate, 75% of eligible seniors will have received their first-dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by early April.

Once 75% of seniors, teachers, and members of phase 1a have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, the Oregon Health Authority will start to make vaccines available to other groups.

If you’re 80 or older, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine fairly quickly. People in the 75-and-up age group might also have an easier time.

But the number of people who become eligible gets larger as the age cutoff for seniors gets lower. The demand for vaccines will quickly outstrip supply, according to OHA data.

“The gap between eligible people and the number of vaccines is pretty wide at the beginning, and it’s only going to get wider for a while,” OHA director Patrick Allen explained.

Many people will not be able to get an appointment for their first vaccination until late March. If appointments are full when you try to register, try again later.

There are currently two tools available to help people figure out if they qualify for the COVID-19 vaccine, and to help connect them with appointments.

The first system is a chatbot on the OHA website that tells you if you are eligible, and helps people make appointments. It only works in English and Spanish. The second is a Google tool, called Get Vaccinated Oregon, which will connect people with vaccination events in their region. It will be available in 12 languages. It will be available on the OHA COVID-19 vaccination page.

Go to the Oregon Health Authority’s COVID-19 vaccination website, covidvaccine.oregon.gov. Scroll about halfway down the page (it’s a very large page) and look for the link that says “vaccine eligibility.” Then click “Let’s Get Started.” A chatbot — which is really just an interactive survey — will pop up in the lower-right hand corner of the screen. Follow the chatbot’s instructions. It will direct you to a page to make your appointment.

Step 1 is always to refresh the page and start over.. If you accidentally leave the page, the bot will (usually) remember information you put in previously.

That can be a problem if you make a mistake, but the bot does include a “start over” button that clears your previous conversation. Some users have reported that button failing to work. If that happens, try to clear your browser cookies before reloading the page.

Clearing cookies is easy, but you do it differently in each browser. Google “how to clear cookies” and the name of your browser (Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Safari, etc.) and the operating system you were using (like Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android.)

OHA maintains a page that links you to vaccination information in different counties. You may be able to find more information there, but you also may need to wait until new appointments open up and try again.

The Oregon Health Authority partnered with Google to create a new tool for vaccine registration. It can’t get you an appointment, but it will tell you if you’re qualify for the vaccine, and send updates about eligibility and events.

To sign up, go to getvaccinated.oregon.gov. There are two buttons on the screen, one that says “Log In” and one that says “Check Eligibility.” If it is your first time using the website and to make an account, click “Check Eligibility.”

You will be given a brief survey about your age, occupation, and other factors that influence eligibility. If you qualify, you will be taken to a page to complete your profile. If you do not qualify, you can still complete your profile and sign up to get alerts when you become eligible.

People who currently qualify for the vaccine can sign up for alerts about local vaccination events.

Your best bet is to try again at a less-busy time. The times before 9 a.m. and after 9 p.m. are usually less busy. But vaccination spots are first-come first-served, so it’s also possible that appointments could be full if you wait too long to register.

The state maintains a COVID-19 helpline, reached by calling 211. That line has experienced long waiting times, so Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced Friday that she will be mobilizing 30 additional National Guard troops to help staff the line.

But the line can still be full.

Because the line can be busy, there is also a text line available to help. You can text ORCOVID to 898211 to receive that information, too.

The Oregon Health Authority is rolling out vaccinations to seniors one age group at a time to avoid congestion. But some is still inevitable.

Although people over the age of 80 can make appointments, OHA’s Allen asked that people under the age of 80 wait a bit to register. If you are someone who can easily stay home and are unlikely to get sick, you can help more at-risk people get their vaccinations by waiting a few weeks — even after your group is eligible to make appointments.

“We want to ask seniors to just hang tight for a little bit to let the 80-plus folks get access to the system,” Allen said.

Once the initial flood of people slows, any technical difficulties and lags should start to slow down.

You can also help by using the chatbot, or by texting ORCOVID to 898211 (see above) before trying the 211 helpline. If a question can’t be answered those ways, call 211 as a last resort.

You will receive information about scheduling a second dose after getting your first dose.

Spanish is supported on OHA’s website, and but not by the chatbot. Spanish language speakers are also available on the 211 hotline and the COVID-19 text line is also in Spanish (898211). Translations can be provided by the Oregon Health Authority as well, by contacting the Health Information Center at 1-971-673-2411

It’s possible to access most of OHA’s website using Google translate, though the translations may not be entirely accurate. You can do so by downloading this app.

211info.org/COVID also contains resources in several languages.

Large-text and braille versions of OHA documents are also available. To access them, contact the Health Information Center at 1-971-673-2411.The website for the 211 number, 211info.org/COVID, contains information on accessing health resources for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, and TTY numbers for relevant agencies.

To contact the Health Information Center via TTY, use dial 711 before calling 1-971-673-2411.

Correction: Feb. 9, 2021. An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect number to text. The correct number is 898211.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Erin Ross
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