The St. Luke’s Health System was flooded with requests on the first day that the list of eligible recipients for COVID-19 vaccinations was expanded to include Idahoans over age 65 on Monday, and quickly filled all available appointments.
In a media briefing Monday afternoon, St. Luke’s officials said some 100,000 people had tried to schedule vaccine appointments earlier that day through its myChart online system. St. Luke's received so many phone calls that a primary customer line was overwhelmed and shut down.
St. Luke’s opened bookings Monday morning to continue to schedule vaccinations for patients in the Tier 1 category of approved recipients and to also commence scheduling appointments for the next group approved by the state, adults 65 and older. Tier 1 includes health-care workers, first responders, teachers, daycare workers, dentists and correctional/detention facility staff, as well as some other, associated groups of professionals.
St. Luke’s released a slate of appointments at 10 sites in its territory in the early morning and then released an additional 1,500 appointments later in the morning specifically for the Treasure Valley, officials said. The 1,500 appointments were filled in six minutes, St. Luke’s reported. The Wood River location was included in the initial offering, St. Luke’s said.
The rollout to older Idahoans is limited by vaccine supply and “unprecedented interest,” said Dr. Laura McGeorge, who is helping to lead the vaccination effort for St. Luke’s. She said appointments will be released on a “rolling basis” only as new shipments of vaccines to the St. Luke’s Health System are confirmed.
“We don’t have control over vaccine volumes,” she said.
Scott Milner, senior director of pharmacy for St. Luke’s, said he is often advised about new shipments of vaccines later in the business week and the bulk of future appointments could be released on Mondays.
However, McGeorge encouraged patients who have been unable to book an appointment to continue to check the myChart system during regular business hours for appointment openings.
On Monday, some Wood River Valley residents complained that they repeatedly tried to book an appointment through myChart but could not. Sun Valley resident Jim Pearre, 79, said he tried numerous times, dates and locations on Monday morning on myChart and could not get an appointment, and eventually the system “bogged down.”
“Phone numbers we were given to call … either were busy or yielded recordings that provided no help,” Pearre said.
Milner said St. Luke’s would prefer to offer more appointments but cannot make reservations until it is assured the appropriate number of vaccine doses will be available.
“It’s not for a lack of desire,” he said.
Idaho has been receiving about 21,000 doses of approved COVID-19 vaccines per week, state officials have said.
Only people who qualify under the state’s guidelines can schedule appointments at this time. St. Luke’s is requesting that patients not call its hospitals or clinics to inquire about COVID-19 vaccinations. Patients are encouraged to try booking an appointment through the myChart system. Patients who cannot use myChart can call 208-381-9500. New patients can call 208-381-9000.
St. Luke’s did start a wait list to administer a small number of unused doses of vaccines to the general public but because it received so many names it has stopped adding to the list.
For additional information about St. Luke’s services, go to stlukesonline.org.
The South Central Public Health District is also giving and arranging vaccinations to eligible recipients. Brianna Bodily, public information officer for the eight-county district, said the district is working from a waitlist of 4,000 people to fill vaccination appointments. Appointments are filled as soon as they open. The district has typically received about 600-800 doses of vaccine per week, she said, with an occasional extra shipment.
More information about the district’s program and other vaccine providers—including pharmacies—can be found at phd5.idaho.gov.
Vaccination of the general public is expected to begin in late spring, a state timeline indicates.
The federal government has stated that it is working to increase the allocation of vaccines to the states, in hopes of increasing vaccination rates.