(AP Photo/Steve Helber, File) Gov. Ralph Northam Delivers The Message
(AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

State rolls out a new vaccine registration system and a new call center.

RICHMOND – Since it went active Tuesday at 8 a.m., more than 240,000 Virginians have used the state’s vaccine pre-registration system. At peak times over the last 24 hours, an estimated 300 people per minute signed up at vaccinate.virginia.gov.

But the sheer amount of traffic caused some problems as well. Too many people tried to log on at one time, repeatedly crashing the system. On Wednesday, Gov. Ralph Northam said the health department has sorted out the technical issues, while also launching a new call center to handle questions.

“We have heard you. You asked for a unified, statewide system where you can preregister and get confirmation that it went through,” Northam said. “And Virginia is delivering.”

Overall, Northam said, the news looks good. COVID-19 case numbers are dropping, especially in places like Southwest Virginia. More people are wearing masks, practicing social distancing and getting vaccinated.

System May Be Slow For a While

Northam also asked people for patience as they go to sign up. Since it launched, the website’s averaged 150 registrations per minute. While it shouldn’t crash, with so many people using the system this week, it might be slow to load.

“All told, 240,000 Virginian signed up since this launched and I’m one of them,” Northam said. “That tells us that the system is working and that it’s meeting a demand.”

The governor noted that the new system will provide functionality Virginians asked for.

“One, it is centralized, which makes it easier on our local health departments,” Northam said. “Two, it gives you confirmation that you’ve signed up and periodic update emails.”

RELATED: Why Did the CVS Vaccine Rollout Go Wrong?

The Vaccine Call Center

The state also launched a call center Wednesday, to help answer any questions someone might have.

“[It’s] a dedicated call center for those folks who are more comfortable talking to a human being than going online,” Northam said. “Together, this is a one-stop-shop for Virginians to pre-register for vaccination so that when your turn comes, the health department can easily reach out to schedule you for your shot.”

Northam noted that he’s “one of those people” that prefers to talk with a live person. The call center will help with that.

“You can speak to someone in English or in Spanish,” Northam said. “Or you can get a callback to speak to someone in 100 other languages.”

The call center will prioritize callers in two groups, starting with those age 75 and over. Those who speak Spanish will also receive priority.

“We have hired 750 call center workers to staff those phone lines,” Northam said.

About 10% of those workers – 69 to be exact – are Spanish-speaking individuals.

“This is a starting point and we will hire more people as needed to meet the demand,” Northam said.

The call center serves several different purposes.

“The call center will allow you to talk to someone who can answer questions and they can help you get preregistered. They have the same access to online preregistration forms,” Northam said. “So if that works better for you, please call.”

The call center number is 877-829-4682. That’s the numerical likeness of 877-VAX-INVA. The hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.. The call center operates seven days a week.

Already in the System

For those who already preregistered, there’s no reason to do so again. Their names are either already in the system or will appear there soon. Not all of the names of preregistered individuals made it to the new system over the weekend.

“If you have already preregistered through your local health district, you don’t need to register again,” Northam said. “The data from local health departments is being automatically imported into the new system.”

The system migrated 1.6 million records over the weekend. There are still more to go.

“Everyone who previously registered is still on the list,” Northam said. “But if you know you preregistered and you can’t find your name on this new system, don’t worry. While much of the data migration from local health departments is done, the rest of it is continuing this week. So it may take several days for your name to show up in the centralized system. If you don’t find your name, just check back in a few days.”

Northam called the new system a “tremendous step forward” in Virginia’s vaccination work.

Words of Caution

The governor urged only utilizing the call center for necessary purposes.

“If you can use the online form, please do so and let our call center workers help those who don’t have internet access or who are having trouble with the online form,” Northam said.

He also shed light on a potential for scammers to prey on victims during the COVID-19 crisis.

“And a note of caution, unfortunately, there are people out there who would take advantage of the high interest in vaccination,” Northam said. “Please remember – and this is so important – the vaccine doesn’t cost you anything. Don’t respond to anyone asking for money to reserve your shot.”

Vaccines on the Rise

Meanwhile on Tuesday, the Biden administration announced that states will receive more doses. In a town hall meeting, President Biden said 13.5 million doses will go out per week, instead of the current 11 million.

The administration has increased the weekly shipments by 57% since taking over four weeks ago. Part of that is due to securing 100 million more doses from Pfizer and 100 million more of the Moderna version. The weekly doses could go up even higher if, as expected, Johnson & Johnson’s version of the vaccine gets approved this month.

“That is wonderful news,” Northam said. “We’ll take every dose that we can get.”

The state’s current allocation slides in at 130,000 doses per week. Additionally, 36 CVS pharmacy locations in Virginia get 26,000 doses each week.

Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at amie@couriernewsroom.com