At 12:55 p.m., Kevin Heard was refreshing the New York City health department’s monkeypox website, waiting for a link to the Affiliated Physicians webpage to appear. It would allow him to schedule a vaccine appointment.
By 1:02 p.m., he saw his first error message.
“Immediately, the first thing was, “Service is unavailable,” Heard, 32, told Gothamist. “It was incredibly frustrating.”
Heard, who has some experience designing websites, opened up Google Chrome’s “Developer Tools” window and spent the next hour and a half refreshing the page. He was eventually able to book vaccine appointments for himself and his partner.
But countless other New Yorkers weren’t so lucky. By 1:29 p.m., the city’s health department announced that the website was down, citing a “high level of traffic.” The department had planned to release about 2,500 shots on Tuesday, the final bits of a 6,000-dose shipment delivered last week.
Three vaccine-seekers interviewed by Gothamist all said they were asked to use a single set of credentials to log in to the website. The pileup caused the webpage to freeze repeatedly, preventing many from getting a vaccine they desperately wanted.
“Due to overwhelming traffic, as soon as appointments went online this afternoon, the site delivered error messages for many people who were unable to make appointments,” read a department statement shared by spokesperson Michael Lanza. “This is just further proof that demand is very high, and we will continue working to make vaccine available.”
The website is operated by Affiliated Physicians, which offers onsite vaccine clinics and health assessments to companies. The city chose the company to replace MedRite, a line of walk-in clinics whose website also crashed when vaccine appointments were initially made available last week. In late June, the city tried to giveaway vaccines through a mixture of appointments and walk-ins but was quickly overwhelmed by demand.
“From a technical perspective, it’s certainly not best practice,” said 30-year-old Cody Dean, who runs a technology consulting firm. He also noted that being self-employed gave him the time and freedom to spend an afternoon refreshing the page — a luxury that other New Yorkers may not be able to afford.
“I own a technology company and I was still unsuccessful,” Dean said. “They’re not distributing this equitably.”
So far, 267 New Yorkers are presumed to have tested positive for monkeypox, although the city said that there are likely more cases that have not been discovered through testing. The city’s current tally would outrank the number of cases recorded in every state in the nation, suggesting the city’s need for vaccine is serious. According to the health department, the outbreak has mainly affected men who have sex with men, though some U.S. cases have also been reported in straight women.
“The painfully slow and unclear roll out of the monkeypox vaccine has been incredibly disappointing,” said New York City councilmember Lincoln Restler. “New Yorkers, and particularly the LGBTQ+ community, who have been most impacted, deserve clear and consistent communication about vaccines and access to appointments on a platform that actually works.”
Restler added that it appears that the lessons from the COVID vaccine have not been learned, alluding to the early and persistent hiccups with that rollout.
Ahead of Independence Day, the White House said it was scaling up testing capacity, and last week, the feds approved the company Labcorp to conduct commercial tests. Prior to that, only government labs had been allowed to process tests, slowing their turnaround times.
Vaccines for the monkeypox virus have been in short supply and high demand. The city has received only about 7,000 doses so far, although another 14,500 are on the way, according to the city health department. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has allocated an initial round of 56,000 vaccine doses nationwide, the first batch of nearly 296,000 doses promised in the coming weeks.
“We apologize for the frustration caused and are working to build stable appointment infrastructure as we roll out more appointments as vaccine supply increases in the coming weeks,” Gallahue stated. “We look forward to receiving more doses in the near future to provide to New Yorkers.”
Adam McMahon, a political science professor at Rider University, said the delays are particularly frustrating given the LGBT community’s enthusiastic embrace of safer sex practices.
“Who wants a crotch rash? Who wants boils on their face?” he said. “People want to get vaccinated for this and yet the government can’t solve that problem.
Gothamist reached out to Associated Physicians for comment but received no reply ahead of publication.