After slip-ups, New Jersey's COVID vaccine call center will not make appointments for now
Palisades Park Bilingual Receptionist, Sam Choi, is shown as he works inside borough hall on Wednesday, February 3, 2021. Among his duties, Choi helps those who speak Korean, register to receive a vaccine. NorthJersey.com
New Jersey's COVID-19 vaccine call center will stop booking appointments temporarily because agents were making too many mistakes such as double-booking patients, state officials said Wednesday.
Since the call center opened two weeks ago, only 600 appointments had been booked despite the center being inundated with hundreds of thousands of callers.
The 250 agents who operate the phone line — 855-568-0545 — will have more training on using the state's appointment system, Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said at Wednesday's briefing.
"We found that it is not as easy as we thought it would be," she said.
Persichilli did not say when appointment booking would resume.
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The center, which opened Jan. 25, has gotten hundreds of thousands of callers — only 50,000 of whom have gotten through to an operator. Many callers are seniors seeking appointments after not being able to obtain one on various state and private online portals.
Demand skyrocketed in mid-January when Gov. Phil Murphy opened eligibility to more than 4 million New Jerseyans including those 65 and older, those with underlying conditions and smokers. New Jersey only receives about 200,000 doses a week, although that is expected to rise as production is stepped up, distribution is faster and more vaccines come on the market.
Murphy said earlier on Wednesday to CNBC that the call center was still getting "on its feet."
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Agents have registered more than 6,000 people, Persichilli said.
But New Jerseyans have complained of very long wait times, and dealing with operators who have been unable to help them.
Persichilli said the state's appointment system "has had its issues" but did not elaborate.
"We are speaking to Microsoft, the vendor, every day to work out the bumps," she said.
Persichilli said operators will still be able to answer question and register New Jerseyans for the vaccine, which determines their eligibility.
Scott Fallon covers the environment for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news about how New Jersey’s environment affects your health and well-being, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.