(CALMATTERS) – Facing criticism for its chaotic COVID-19 vaccine rollout, California has quietly launched a long-promised statewide website to help residents learn when they are eligible to receive the vaccine and schedule appointments.
Called MyTurn (myturn.ca.gov), the online registry has not yet been widely promoted and still is a work in progress.
Californians can register on the website to be notified when it’s their turn for the vaccine in a number of counties. But for now, it only can be used to schedule appointments for health care workers and people 65 and older.
MyTurn is expected to improve in the coming weeks as more counties are able to link their registration systems to the state’s online platform. At least one local official has alerted their constituents to it, but the state has not yet announced or publicized it.
The website advises people without email addresses or a mobile phone to call the state’s COVID hotline at 833-422-4255.
MyTurn serves as a clearinghouse for residents, a one-stop place to get information that until now has been scattered over 58 counties and three cities. State officials largely have left the on-the-ground logistics of vaccine distribution to local health departments that have partnered with local health providers.
As a result, Californians have had to navigate numerous online registration or notification systems managed by county and city governments, hospitals and even supermarkets. They have spent hours on screens and on the phone, fruitlessly searching for appointments. Some online platforms have buckled under the strain, going dark for hours at a time.
“It’s been frustrating,” said Diane Mendoza, a school transportation manager from Visalia. Earlier this week, she spent hours online and on the phone to get a vaccine appointment for her 82-year-old mother.
The fragmented and confusing rollout prompted a group of tech workers to launch their own statewide information portal, VaccinateCA.com.
“It’s been a blur,” Manish Goregaokar, a Berkeley software engineer and one of the site’s organizers, said of the site’s rapid growth since its launch last week.
“I really wish this (rollout) was more coordinated and that we’d prepped for this more,” Goregaokar said. “We didn’t know when it would be ready but we knew that at some point there is going to be a vaccine. The logistics of this should have been figured out.”
More than 100 volunteers are now vetting information on the site, Goregaokar said.
“This kind of haphazard way of getting the vaccine out just creates enormous frustration and is unnecessary,” said Dr. John Swartzberg, an infectious disease specialist at UC Berkeley.
The state’s new MyTurn site “is intended to be one, but not the only, place where Californians can find information on when they are eligible to get vaccinated and to be able to make an appointment for vaccination,” said one state official who was not authorized to speak publicly.
Dagny Ellenberg, vice president of Fiona Hutton & Associates, a Sacramento public affairs firm that develops campaigns for state agencies, said a state-run registration site could be useful but had a caveat.
“In a perfect world, anyone in the state could use a single resource, but I think we’ve all lived through large-scale health care rollouts, like Healthcare.gov, and seen the confusion that can result,” Ellenberg said. “Technical glitches can overshadow the good that’s trying to be accomplished. It would be incredibly important to make sure it can be rolled out in a way that’s effective and avoids glitches.”
BY BARBARA FEDER OSTROV N| CALmatters