This story has been updated to reflect the correct name for the state's vaccination web portal.
West Virginia will begin rolling out a new vaccine registration system next week, state officials announced Thursday.
Beginning at 8 a.m. Monday, West Virginians 65 years of age and older are advised to visit vaccinate.wv.gov to register for the COVID-19 vaccine. Registration also may be done through the same system by phone, at 1-833-734-0965, Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch said.
“The fastest way to register into this system will be online,” Crouch said during Thursday’s state COVID-19 briefing. “The information and the forms that will come up on your computer are very straightforward, very simple to fill out.”
Crouch said people without internet service or a computer may call the vaccine hotline number, which is the same number the state released Jan. 4 for vaccine questions and information.
This registration also will apply to school teachers 50 years of age and older who have not yet received a vaccination, Crouch said.
For West Virginians who already have made it onto a vaccine registration list but are still waiting for their first shot, Crouch said not to register again. Existing lists from local health centers will be merged with those registered through the new system, he said.
“Please don’t call the call line or register again, you will keep your priority. Everyone who’s contacted a local health department, [federally qualified health center], rural health center, etc., you will keep your priority,” Crouch said. “We will not bump anyone ahead of you. These lists will be merged so you retain priority.”
Crouch said that, because of the high volume of phone calls to local health departments, the state designed this system to help offset some registration workload.
“We expect this to take a lot of the telephone load off of our local health departments,” Crouch said. “Please be patient with those folks, they’re doing a terrific job.”
V.J. Davis, president of the West Virginia Association of Local Health Departments, said that, especially for smaller health departments, existing phone systems were just not capable of handling more than a few phone calls at a time.
“It doesn’t take long for that [system] to get overwhelmed,” Davis said, “and if you’ve only got three lines and you’ve got 30 people trying to call three lines, it doesn’t take long to overwhelm it.”
Even in Kanawha County, residents have said they’ve called the health department hundreds of times in one day and got no answer. With larger health departments, Davis said, phone system upgrades are still very costly and, before March, they were unnecessary.
“I think a lot of that part of it kind of did catch health departments off guard,” Davis said. “We didn’t have that infrastructure of those elaborate phone systems in place, because, before the pandemic, we just really didn’t have a need for that type of call system.”
The vaccine registration office will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, according to the state health department. The office will be closed Sundays.