First Responder Vaccines in Pittsfield (copy) (copy)

Registered Nurse Emilie Jarrett administers the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Katherine DeSantis, an EMT with Richmond Ambulance, during a vaccination clinic for first responders at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield in January.

In West Stockbridge, Alisa Desmond sat down at her computer at 5 a.m. Sunday to begin the morning’s hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine appointment. Marge Millette goes online at midnight hoping to find an open slot.

On Sunday morning, The Eagle invited online readers to share accounts of what they’ve gone through to obtain the near-impossible: a vaccine appointment.

In this space today, we turn the mic over to them.

“Why can’t MA do a better job?” asks Christine Erb of Lanesborough. “There has got to be a better system,” says Leonard Rosenfeld of Lenox. “An exercise in futility,” says Eric Pratt.

The testimony below speaks of living in laptop limbo. Of long waits and frustration — and occasional breakthroughs. Bizarre messages on wait times. No pot of vaccine gold at the end of the rainbow. Instead, the handful of listed appointments are gone. If they existed at all.

“No less than 20 attempts, different times a day, to all websites, pharmacies. All with same dead end results,” Marie Lavinio told us.

The Eagle wants to hear from you. Tell us about your vaccine appointment odyssey. Send an email to lparnass@berkshireeagle.com.

Marie Lavinio: ‘Dreadful’ experience

“My friend and I are in the 65+ category and have been on our laptops and phones since the category opened trying to find appointments in the Berkshires. The waiting room is a disaster. We were on hold for seven hours, only to be bumped out. At times we were hopeful when there seemed to be a 20-minute wait, but then the time increased to several hours.

“The pharmacies in Western MA seemed hopeful and gave us a message that appointments were available. Once we filled out the info, we were told that there were not enough vaccines for the first and second doses. We were only signing up for the first dose. Mind you, we have been trying for appointments every day …. I also use @vaccinetime on Twitter but have only been notified of one venue near Boston and when I click on the link I am taken to the infamous waiting room. It is more than maddening! So far, our experience has been dreadful.”

Leonard Rosenfeld: ‘Buddy’ breakdown

“When Gov. Baker opened vaccinations to 75+ at the beginning of February, I called early and got through easily and made an appointment at the Dubois Middle School. When he started the buddy system, I thought my wife who is 73 could join me in my second appointment the 24th and get her vaccination.

“I frantically kept trying to secure an appointment on the 24th for her, but the governor just before the appointments for my week became available opened the appointments to 65 and above. The buddy system disappeared in the rush for appointments. I began trying for non-Berkshire sites on the MA COVID site and finally got through and filled out my information and took pictures of my documents and was switched to the limited appointments that were available.

“Just after touching an available time, it flashed ‘no appointment available. I quickly went to the next available time and pushed select and again got the answer no time available. By then nothing at all was available.

“I called the state 211 line and gave the person all my info and was told I’d be called with an appointment. No call. After eight days I called back. The attendant checked and said I was still on the list and she’d check to see why I wasn’t called. Another week later I got called back to verify my place in line and I would be called soon. That was two days ago and I’m still waiting.”

Dan Parnell: ‘Why bother?’

“We have two experiences to share. First, my vaccine. I am over 65 and when Charlie Baker announced 65 and over on Wednesday afternoon, we went right in and we were easily able to book an appointment for BCC ... The actual vaccination process was beyond exceptional.

Second, my wife. She is under 65 but has two comorbidities. Unfortunately when we booked my appointment we did not think she qualified. It wasn’t until we drilled down on the specific comorbidities on mass.gov did we learn she was qualified to get the vaccine. We have been trying for the last 10 days to book an appointment.

“Some of the frustrations: the site says there are appointments but when you go in the site is closed or; you get in and there are appointments available for, say, 500 slots, and you are told you are 96,754 in line!

“Or you get in and are told you have a 6,225 minute wait, again. Why bother?

“The other really annoying step is every time you do try and book an appointment you have to fill out all the information required, name, contact info, insurance info, questionnaire, etc. My siblings live in Connecticut and upon initial registration on the Connecticut website you create a login and password and the basic information is then stored for future attempts at getting an appointment.”

Christine Richer: Life in quarantine

“We tried two weeks ago to get a vaccine appointment for my husband (and) got through the questionnaire only to be told there were no vaccine appointments available. We are both in the 65-74 year old age range and I have two comorbidities.

“When we tried this past week, we sat in the waiting room for hours while the time to wait varied wildly. We looked on vaxfinder.mass.gov and found three empty slots in Greenfield, so we went on again and eventually got through the questionnaire, only to find we could only get him on a waiting list!

“I had also been calling the director of our Council on Aging and finally spoke to her. The best she could do is to put him on a waiting list here in the Berkshires. We are really needing him to get vaccinated first because he is my caregiver. I had a kidney transplant Dec. 9 and am still in quarantine until after March 9, so I’ll try to get the COVID-19 vaccine after that.”

Bob Parsons: Wait in vain

“Problems started on Feb. 18. I opened up getvaccinatedberkshires.com at 8 a.m. and started to look for an appointment. When it went to the state site, everything crashed. I kept trying all day, about every 15 minutes or so, and got nowhere near an appointment until early evening. At that point I was able to start filling in information for an appointment at BCC only to get to ‘save and continue’ and then was told no appointments were available.

“While I expected that there would be heavy activity, I did not expect the whole system to crash and not be fixed all day. I found out later in the weekend that I could have signed up on Wednesday. However, since I (thought) signups didn’t start until Thursday at 8 a.m., I never looked at either getvaccinatedberkshires.org or the mass.gov site to see the change.

“Both my wife and I spent the next days going on either getvaccinatedberkshires or mass.gov to try to book appointments. We would see slots open and try to get one of them but by the time we got to pick a slot, they were gone. We were on line looking every half hour all day. I did call the 211 number on Friday but the person I talked to (very nice by the way) couldn’t see anything that I couldn’t already see.

“Thursday the waiting room gave me a number of 69,424 at 6 a.m. By 10:30 it was 105,750. Since then I haven’t really looked too hard.

“I know that the people running the clinics are doing a great job, hopefully I get to see it in action soon.”

Martin Greenstein: Schedule snafu

“I received the confirmation for my vaccine appointment for Feb. 27 on Feb. 16. Upon arriving at the site, St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in North Adams, I provided the confirmation and other documentation required. Soon after I was advised that they were not giving first doses.

“They were only giving second doses, which my wife was there to receive. My appointment had apparently been cancelled. The good news is that my wife got her shot.

“There was no way for me to reschedule my first dose. I checked at Stop & Shop where I was told they too were only giving second doses and had no idea when, if ever, they’d get a supply of first doses again.

“I’ll be 74 in April. I’m wondering when I’ll be able to get vaccinated. Maybe I’ll get lucky and find a way to get the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine.”

Yvonne Elder: ‘Missed golden opportunity’

My saga started on Feb. 17 with notification that 65+ could sign up tomorrow. Not being aware of the getvacinnatedberkshires website, which was telling those 65+ to say you were 75 to get into the system, I missed the golden opportunity to sign my husband and I up for an appointment.

“Next comes trying to sign up when a site says there are 10 appts available but there is no schedule button … or hitting the schedule button and going through all the steps only to find at the end that there are no appointments available but the site says there are still 10. That happened probably four times in a row.

“Now, enter the digital ‘waiting room.’ First it’s 30 minutes, (then it) refreshes to 232 minutes, 18 minutes, then 684 minutes. Finally, after waiting over an hour (and) going through the same eight steps of forms, only to be told there are now no appointments available.

“I realize it’s a lot of work to coordinate all of this, but it’s also very stressful and frustrating trying to beat all the techies in order to get an appointment.”

Marge Millette: ‘A broken system’

“I received my first shot a month ago, not easy at first, but then all went smoothly. Now that my husband is ready, the new phase is a total nightmare.

“I have tried every day, staying up until midnight to try for a spot and daily off and on. All I get is the runaround. Then I hear that people are coming from areas where they have bigger clinics and more vaccine. Governor Baker and the websites dropped the ball on this one. Why not finish one phase first, or have a phase from 70 and up before you start with thousands of 65 and up? Maybe this is why a lot of people are not even going to try to get it. This is a broken system.”

Alisa Desmond: An ‘abysmal reality’

“My husband is 66 and I am 56, disabled — we relocated here last year. Upon the opening of vaccines for over 65, my husband and I have used two computers, two iPhones and a laptop to book an appointment without luck. I learned last night a person created a Twitter ‘bot’ (@vaccinetime) to alert us when new openings appear. Just last night. and two hours too late, I learned 43 appointments opened up at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester.

“We feverishly tried for hours without luck. You see my truth is that I do not want my husband investing six hours trying to get a Covid vaccine alone. But he keeps trying to get that coveted appointment time for daylight hours, ensuring his drive is safe. I want to support him by helping with the drive, but a four- hour drive, plus 60-75 minute wait in the parking lot with unknown restroom availability, for me is not an option.

“But still he and I keep trying. This morning I started at 5 a.m. The system eventually lets me in and reveals appointments that do not exist.”

“We moved here because of the stellar healthcare for me and the pristine beauty of the Berkshires. This experience shows the abysmal reality of how living near a city reveals benefits. Massachusetts is letting me down.”

Jo Ann Austin: ‘Why doesn’t it work?’

“Early on the first morning of the new, improved MA Covid vaccination website, I logged on and found a digital waiting room. Great! A logical, sequential process at last!

“I was told that my wait would be 43 minutes. I was ready, coffee in hand and fully charged iPad. Rather quickly, the minutes ticked down in clusters, until I had only 22 minutes to go! Yay! I was excited to see that I was getting closer to success.

“Then in the blink of an eye, my minutes to wait jumped up to 1,110 minutes!

“Wait, what? In a few minutes I received a message saying that large numbers of users were trying to access the website. No kidding. I was told to try again. Really? Ever hopeful, I started the process over, with similar results. I had already been online for an hour when I was eventually told that my wait would be 2,943 minutes.

“After many more futile attempts, I threw in the digital towel. This whole experience is frustrating, anxiety-provoking and unnecessary. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law in New Hampshire (who are younger than my husband and I) have received their two shots. The Berkshire County agencies and boards are doing their best to get us vaccinated. What is wrong at the state level? Why doesn’t the state website and distribution process work for us?

Paul Tabone: Hoping logjam breaks

“My wife and I are in the Phase 2 group, being in our early 70’s. Since the initial rollout. I have been on the computer trying to get appointments. I have tried any and every offered site I could find, only to realize that they all seem to head in the same direction: the vaxfinder.mass.gov site.

“That site will occasionally show availability, most of it in and around Boston. When it does show a local availability, the site either has only a single dose available or if it shows multiple availability I find that once I go through the machinations I am told there are no doses available. They are either disappearing during my logging in or the site itself is flawed.

“The rollout could have been handled more smoothly but the illustrious leader of the U.S. had decided that each state will be in charge of its own destiny. I plan on continuing trying and am hopeful that with the introduction of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the logjams will break open soon.

Vaccine BCC (copy)

A Berkshire County clinic prepares a dose.

Barbara Palumbo: Just a tease

“It is a tease. There are no appointments ever! And it becomes an obsession to make one. Massachusetts is so far behind. Why?”

John P. Gilewicz: WWII vet disserved

“My 94-year-old father-in-law lives with us, and my 70-year-old wife is providing 24/7 care. We cannot get either vaccinated.

“When we called, we were told that we would have to drive him to a clinic. When we explained he was bedridden, we were told there was nothing they could do. Really? It is physically impossible to get him into a car, let alone into a clinic, so he cannot get vaccinated?

“Last time I was on the website, I was told my wait time was 8,551 minutes.

“On the Walgreen’s site, seven times my wife was told she could schedule a first shot, and then at the end she was told they were cancelling her first appointment because they did not know if they would have a vaccine for her second appointment. And then she was disconnected. What is wrong with this country when a 94-year-old WW II veteran cannot get the vaccine?”

Jeffrey Horton: Set local rule?

“My experience has been very frustrating. My wife and I are in the 65-to-74-year-old group. I have been trying since the first day they opened up our group to book appointments. This past week when they made appointments available at 8 a.m. I was online and started the process and by the time I put my info in there were no more appointments.

“My question is: why can’t the Berkshire collaborative limit people signing up to Berkshire County? Some other collaboratives in the state are doing that.”

Bob Ebbeling: Reaching for patience

“I am a 72-year-old male and I have been trying to book an appointment since the window for people who are 65 and older opened. Initially, the problem was the way the system was constructed. When appointments were shown to be available you were allowed to enter your information. By the time you finished recording your information, the vaccine was no longer available. This happened over and over again to my great frustration.

“At this point, trying to get a vaccine has become a full time job. I would have hoped that our state could have and would have tested the system to obtain a vaccination. This did not happen. I am starting to think that we are not capable of doing things right the first time, but rather we are stuck in a technical mess that is out of control.”

“I refuse to cheat or get ahead of someone else. I will wait for my turn and stay quarantined. I will try to be patient and not get angry over this incompetence.”

“God bless the medical workers, the first responders, and everyone who is working hard to do the best they can under these circumstances.”

Lucy Prashker: Not even close

“Since I became eligible for a vaccination (over 65 group), I’ve spent many hours on line trying to secure a vaccination slot anywhere within 100 miles. I haven’t gotten close.

“The first day, there was the ‘octopus’ crash. Refreshing the site constantly sometimes landed me on a screen that appeared to allow you to make an appointment (with the coveted blue ‘sign-up’ rectangle under certain vaccination sites tantalizingly dangled), but by the time I started to input my information, I would be booted.

“When I went back in, if I managed to get through the first couple of screens, there would be no available appointments anywhere.

“The waiting room – touted on the state website as helping appointment scheduling sites work smoothly for all users and “ensur[ing] you have the best possible online experience” has been a nightmare since launch.

“On the first day, the waiting times jumped around chaotically from 60 minutes, to a few minutes, to thousands of minutes. Just this morning (after the waiting room was reportedly “fixed”), after a 45-minute wait with wait times going both up and down during that period, I finally got down to one minute, only to then be booted to a wait of “more than a day” and an invitation to try again another time.

“Within a few minutes, the wait time dropped back to 13 minutes, down again to 6 minutes, and then again, back to ‘more than a day.’ I gave up.

“The disaster that is the vaccine sign-up process is not about our not having enough vaccine. It’s about the state’s having failed to plan and build a website that meets even minimal performance standards.”

“The frustration for me is not about waiting my turn, however long that takes, according to some logical and equitable plan; it’s about there being no rational process for people who are eligible to get in line. I hope that the Berkshire vaccination collaborative is giving serious consideration to decoupling from the state sign-up system – as I believe I read Franklin County did.”

Christine Erb: What’s up with Mass?

“I’m a 73-year-old with one co-morbidity. I’ve been social distancing, masking, double-masking — extremely careful for more than a year. When the caregiver option was promoted, I considered trying to find a 75+-year-old to help.

“However, all my 75+-year-old friends had been vaccinated, and it seemed unwise to seek out a stranger. When the state allowed 65+, I went online and phoned immediately. The website crashed. The phone line disconnected me. I check the website multiple times a day, sometimes being allowed to join the 26-minute waiting line.

“My older Massachusetts friends, my friends and family in Oklahoma, New Jersey, California, Vermont, New York and Illinois (all of whom have had at least one shot) as well as my daughter-in-law in the United Kingdom (who accesses the website at 3 a.m. EST), have all tried to help.

“No luck. Why can’t MA do a better job?”

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com and 413-588-8341.

Investigations editor

Larry Parnass, investigations editor, joined The Eagle in 2016 from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where he was editor in chief. His freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant and CommonWealth Magazine.