Walgreens on Tuesday again apologized for a "technical glitch" with the COVID vaccine scheduler on its website, marking the third time in as many weeks that the company has acknowledged issues with its online appointment sign-up process.
Users began to report on Monday that the Walgreens website had booked second-dose vaccination appointments without also booking the preceding first doses. On Tuesday, Walgreens said that was a "glitch" that has since been resolved and that they would be reaching out to those impacted.
"A technical glitch allowed patients in select stores to book appointments for second dose time slots without also booking their first dose. This issue has been resolved," a representative for Walgreens said in a statement Tuesday evening.
"We are committed to honoring vaccination appointments that have been scheduled in our system, and our team members are reaching out to all patients affected to attempt to accommodate them," the company continued. "If supply does not allow us to vaccinate some of these patients, we will prioritize them for appointments as additional vaccine inventory is available. We apologize for the inconvenience."
The company did not respond to multiple requests on how many people the glitch impacted, though hundreds of members of the "Chicago Vaccine Hunters" Facebook group posted and commented that they were experiencing that same issue.
Users have repeatedly complained about the Walgreens appointment sign-up process, some on social media calling the latest glitch "a mess" and "so frustrating."
Walgreens' Twitter account dedicated to responding to customer complaints tweeted in response to dozens of people in recent weeks, "As demand for vaccinations continues to be high, we are experiencing temporary outages on our vaccine scheduler."
Walgreens said Tuesday that in addition to its online scheduler, appointments can be booked by calling 1-800-Walgreens (1-800-925-4733) or they can be made in stores or by calling a local Walgreens individually.
Those options were also what the company offered for people who have already booked or received their first doses but are struggling to find second-dose appointments.
"We are committed to honoring all appointments and providing second doses to all patients, regardless of where their first dose was administered," the company said. "For those patients who received their first dose with Walgreens, if they haven’t received their second dose, we will be reaching out to ensure that they have scheduled an appointment and are vaccinated."
Last week, the company apologized for "delays or failures" some were experiencing with the website.
"We apologize that some customers may experience delays or failures when using our website and COVID-19 vaccine scheduler. Our teams are resolving the issues and working to prevent a reocurrence," the Illinois-based company tweeted.
The week before, both Walgreens and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker acknowledged that the pharmacy chain was experiencing problems with its vaccine sign-up process, as the company's website showed no availability or would not allow patients to book available first-dose appointments, frustrating eligible Illinois residents seeking to get their shots.
"In this fluid situation during which vaccine inventory remains limited, our aim is to ensure eligible patients are able to receive vaccinations as soon as possible," a Walgreens spokesman said in a statement on March 4. "We are continuing to enhance our vaccine scheduler with a great sense of urgency and are committed to providing the most convenient solution for our customers."
"We have dedicated teams actively working through scheduler issues to ensure an easy, secure and transparent experience for all eligible individuals scheduling their vaccinations according to vaccine availability," the statement continued.
In several attempts to book an appointment in recent weeks, at varying times each day and on multiple devices, the Walgreens site has shown two responses: either no available appointments anywhere in the state, or if appointments are shown, a subsequent page in the registration process says the first-dose appointment cannot be booked because there are no second-dose appointments available.
When asked to explain the issues with the scheduler, what is being done to fix them and a timeline for when they might be resolved, Walgreens said the effort "continues to rapidly evolve with fluxing vaccine inventories, varying eligibility guidelines, and continued demand that outweighs inventory."
"Customers may experience temporary issues with scheduling their vaccine. We are working to resolve issues as quickly as possible," the company said, saying that it was resolving issues "often times within as little as an hour," though it did not offer any further details or evidence to that claim.
"We apologize for the inconvenience as we work to vaccinate our most vulnerable populations as quickly as possible," Walgreens said.
Pritzker acknowledged on March 5 that Walgreens was facing "technical difficulties" and said his office was communicating with the company regularly.
"To the extent Walgreens is having trouble with their website, I know that my team is always encouraging them to make it easier, faster, but the truth is that there are technical difficulties that arise. Walgreens doesn't want them either," Pritzker said during a news conference. "I don't know when that will be overcome by Walgreens, but I know that they're trying very hard to make sure that happens."
Pritzker said his team was "talking to Walgreens almost every day" because the company is partially responsible for vaccinations in the state's long-term care facilities and is also part of the Federal Retail Partnership Program. Through that nationwide public-private partnership, Walgreens' website says it receives 16,690 doses of vaccine in Chicago and 61,220 for the rest of Illinois each week from the federal government, on top of what's already separately allocated to Walgreens under the city and state's supply.
Neither Pritzker's office, the Illinois Department of Public Health, nor Walgreens have responded to repeated requests for information on how many of the state's allotted doses outside of the FRPP go to Walgreens. But with 517 Walgreens administering vaccinations across the state, per the IDPH website, the company has far and away the most locations of all vaccine providers in Illinois, with Jewel-Osco ranking second at 143 locations.
Illinois is currently in Phase 1B Plus of its vaccine rollout, expanding eligibility last month to include people with certain high-risk medical conditions and comorbidities, though some jurisdictions, including Chicago and several of the surrounding counties, said they would remain in the more strict Phase 1B due to low supply.
The first iteration of Phase 1B includes all residents age 65 and older as well as "frontline essential workers" like first responders, teachers and school staff, childcare workers, grocery store employees, postal service workers and more, in addition to the health care workers plus long-term care facility staff and residents eligible under Phase 1A.
For a full look at who's eligible to get vaccinated in Phase 1B Plus, click here.
Officials have repeatedly asked for patience with the vaccine rollout as the state battles low supply. Pritzker said on multiple occasions that the White House has told his administration that Illinois can expect to see an average of at least 100,000 doses per day by mid-March and President Joe Biden said last week that the U.S. would have enough doses of the vaccine for all adults by the end of May.
Still, some of those eligible now and seeking appointments have found only frustration. Comments in the "Chicago Vaccine Hunters" Facebook group call the Walgreens process in particular "such a joke," "horrible to deal with" and "a nightmare."
For a complete look at where and how you can make an appointment in Illinois or where you can receive vaccine information for your area, click here.