Alaska has the highest rate of COVID-19 vaccinations in the country, but many Alaskans who qualify for the vaccine still haven’t been able to get one — because of trouble navigating the state’s website.
State technicians who have been answering users’ questions during the pandemic have some good news: Things are improving.
Recently, they’ve streamlined forms and added new features, such as a real-time vaccination appointment locator.
But despite improvements, the limited number of vaccines means it’s still hard to get an appointment. Rose Hewitt, a state COVID-19 technician, said successfully making an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine on the state website really boils down to one piece advice.
“Just being persistent.” she said. “It really does pay off to just keep checking in.”
After users log onto the state’s official website, covidvax.alaska.gov, they first have to determine eligibility. (As of late January, only healthcare workers and Alaskans over 65 are eligible.)
Next comes booking an appointment. There are three options to use: A list of vaccination clinics, a map showing clinic locations, and a real-time list of available vaccination appointments, called PrepMod.
“People don’t always understand how each of those things are three separate tools,” said Hewitt.
“Each piece has different but overlapping information, which can be confusing,” said Zac Owen, an IT Coordinator at DHSS.
For most people, the easiest way is to use PrepMod. It links users directly to an online registration portal with some available appointments.
“Having that page, where you’re able to see at a glance what is available, makes it a lot easier for people to check once or twice or three times a day,” Hewitt said.
But the catch is that the list doesn’t include all available appointments: Some providers aren’t enrolled in the system. Using the other options — list and map view — helps cover all the bases.
“[PrepMod] are all the ones that have registered with the state as a public provider, but it is not exhaustive,” said Owen.
For those who can find an appointment through the list or map, there are more tests of persistence.
Owen said people get stuck on the box where you’re supposed to submit insurance information. But if you don’t know your information or don’t have insurance, you can leave it blank.
“You can put in what you know. And then you can just move on. Most providers are not making insurance information required,” he said.
Some clinics aren’t set up for internet registration, and require calling to make an appointment. For non-English speakers, it can be especially difficult. Hewitt said the state’s helpline offers translation resources: 907-646-3322.
The helpline is also there for people without internet access or difficulty using computers.
While it might not be the quickest way, calling folks like Hewitt on the helpline and letting them drive the process is sometimes the best bet.
“It’s easier for me to say, ‘Okay, I understand your frustration. Let’s work on getting an appointment,’” she said. “And that’s a better experience for everybody.”
With vaccine supply limits, there’s no guarantee eligible Alaskans will get appointments right away — but knowing how at least gives everyone a chance.
If you have questions about the state’s vaccination process you’d like us to answer, send an email firstname.lastname@example.org.