Expanded vaccine rollout in US spawns a new set of problems

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FILE - In this Jan. 13, 2021, file photo, health care workers receive a COVID-19 vaccination at Ritchie Valens Recreation Center, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Pacoima, Calif. The rapid expansion of vaccinations to senior citizens across the U.S. has led to bottlenecks, system crashes and hard feelings in many states because of overwhelming demand for the shots. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

The rapid expansion of COVID-19 vaccinations to senior citizens across the U.S. has led to bottlenecks, system crashes and hard feelings in many states because of overwhelming demand for the shots.

Mississippi's Health Department stopped taking new appointments the same day it began accepting them because of a “monumental surge” in requests. People had to wait hours to book vaccinations through a state website or a toll-free number Tuesday and Wednesday, and many were booted off the site because of technical problems and had to start over.

In California, counties begged for more coronavirus vaccine to reach millions of their senior citizens. Hospitals in South Carolina ran out of appointment slots within hours. Phone lines were jammed in Georgia.

“It’s chaos,” said New York City resident Joan Jeffri, 76, who had to deal with broken hospital web links and unanswered phone calls before her daughter helped her secure an appointment. “If they want to vaccinate 80% of the population, good luck, if this is the system. We’ll be here in five years.”

Up until the past few days, health care workers and nursing home patients had been given priority in most places around the U.S. But amid frustration over the slow rollout, states have thrown open the line to many of the nation's 54 million senior citizens with the blessing of President Donald Trump's administration, though the minimum age varies from place to place, at 65, 70 or higher.

On Thursday, New Jersey expanded vaccinations to people between 16 and 65 with certain medical conditions — including up to 2 million smokers, who are more prone to health complications.

The U.S., meanwhile, recorded 3,848 deaths on Wednesday, down from an all-time high of 4,327 the day before, according to Johns Hopkins University. The nation’s overall death toll from COVID-19 has topped 385,000.

President-elect Joe Biden unveiled a $1.9 trillion coronavirus plan Thursday that includes speeding up vaccinations. Called the “American Rescue Plan,” the legislative proposal would meet Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration.