Walgreens Pharmacies has abruptly canceled first and second doses of the coronavirus vaccine due to website outages, the company says. While it’s unclear how many appointments are affected, people across the New Orleans area have reported cancellations with short notice.
For weeks, Paul Mohor, 70, had a second-dose appointment scheduled at 3:45 p.m. Friday at the Walgreens store in the Garden District, and he even received a reminder email this week. Two hours before his appointment for the Moderna shot, an employee called to cancel, saying the store ran out of vaccine a day earlier.
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“There is no direction about what I’m supposed to do,” Mohor said. The pharmacist suggested he make another appointment at a different Walgreens, but the website was not showing availability. He was unable to schedule elsewhere, because vaccine providers typically require both doses be administered at the same place.
On Thursday, Ellis Catan, 67, snagged a Friday appointment at a Walgreens in the 7th Ward. He received a confirmation number, but it was soon followed by a cancellation email.
“I was all gung-ho to go get the shot,” said Catan, who is disabled and has diabetes. “They’ve got to know what they have. Why would they even schedule me?”
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A Walgreens representative said the company was aware of the issues.
“As demand for vaccinations continues to be high, we are experiencing temporary outages on our vaccine scheduler,” the company said in a statement emailed by corporate spokesperson Emily Delnicki. “We are working to resolve them as quickly as possible, often in as little as one hour. We are committed to ensuring a seamless scheduling experience to achieve the shared goal of vaccinating our most vulnerable populations as quickly as possible.”
The company apologized for the inconvenience but did not answer questions about how many people were affected, how many doses the company received in the past week or how people should schedule another appointment as the window between the first and second dose expands.
The cancellations represent what has been a fitful, confusing vaccine rollout for people 65 and older, the largest eligible group in Louisiana. Until recently, state government had little notice of how much vaccine would be delivered from the federal government each week, which made scheduling shots difficult for vaccine providers. Ochsner Health System, which has received the largest shipments in the state, delayed thousands of appointments after receiving fewer vaccines than expected in recent weeks.
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The cancellations came as President Joe Biden’s administration began shipping 1 million doses weekly to 6,500 pharmacies across the United States. Walgreens is participating in the federal program.
Louisiana’s allocation log, most recently updated on Monday, shows that the Walgreens at 5518 Magazine St. received 975 doses the week before. The location where Mohor was booked, at 3227 Magazine, received 300 doses over three weeks in January. The location where Catan was booked, 1826 N. Broad St., was not listed as receiving doses directly. Other locations in the New Orleans area have received 100-dose shipments throughout the distribution process.
A Louisiana Department of Health representative called the Walgreens cancellations “unacceptable.”
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“We routinely communicate with all vaccine providers to troubleshoot issues like this as they arise,” public information officer Mindy Faciane said. “Walgreens is aware of these concerns and has committed its full attention to fixing them.”
The Health Department said its expectation is that second doses should be scheduled upon administration of the first dose, and that people experiencing cancellations should call 211 or email [email protected] to report concerns.
Mohor said he called 211 and a toll-free number for Walgreens. Neither was able to direct him to another appointment.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the second dose of Moderna be given 28 days after the first, a span that clinical trials show is about 94% effective at preventing symptoms. However, if a delay is unavoidable, the second shot may be given as long as 42 days after the first.
Emily Woodruff covers public health for The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate as a Report For America corps member.