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Microsoft says vaccine tools have ‘fallen short’ after DC snags

A Microsoft office in Mountain View, California, U.S., on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. Microsoft Corp. is expected to release earnings figures on January 26. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
A Microsoft office in Mountain View, California, U.S., on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. Microsoft Corp. is expected to release earnings figures on January 26. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg (Bloomberg)

Widely-used Microsoft Corp. vaccine scheduling software that has run into difficulties in states like Iowa and New Jersey is being blamed for problems that left some residents of the nation’s capital unable to book appointments.

After three straight days of issues with the District of Columbia’s online vaccination registration, the Redmond, Washington-based technology company released a statement along with the city government acknowledging “that our efforts have fallen short” and vowing to address the problems.

“We understand the frustration of individuals who attempted to utilize the District’s vaccination appointment portal this week,” they said. “We are committed to address technical issues so that the vaccination appointment portal is properly functional and accessible.”

The issues in DC represent another black eye for Microsoft, which has heavily touted its software as a way to help with rapid vaccine deployment and scheduling. In the past several years, the software giant has increasingly focused on health care and hospital systems as customers for its cloud and artificial intelligence systems, including releasing a cloud software package tailored to the industry last year.

Frustrated users of the system took to Twitter to voice a litany of complaints, including Captcha response tests not working, error messages saying the service was unavailable and web page crashes.

“It was a deeply frustrating experience,” said Adam Beitman, 36, who spent 40 minutes trying to use the website after learning his asthma qualified as a pre-existing condition. “It’s unclear how a website could be this dysfunctional. I don’t even know if I got the appointment or not.”

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The office of Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser referred questions about the specific cause of the problems to the city’s health department, which didn’t respond to emails and voice messages seeking comment.

‘Very Frustrating’

“We know this morning was very frustrating for many people,” DC Health said on Twitter Thursday. “We are working with Microsoft to understand why heavy traffic caused some eligible individuals to not get through.”

Vincent Gray, a member of the Council of the District of Columbia who chairs the committee on health, said he plans to hold a hearing March 4 to investigate the problems.

The problems follow glitches with the Microsoft system that has led at least one state to cancel a contract with the technology company. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds said earlier this month the state was backing out of a plan to use Microsoft’s software for registering patients and scheduling Covid-19 vaccinations “after learning more about the breadth of Microsoft’s solution and reviewing the challenges faced by some other states.”

In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy complained about significant glitches in the state’s Microsoft-built vaccination scheduling system, which was marred by problems for weeks after it was rolled out.

By Ari Natter and Dina Bass

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