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Allegheny Co. Health Dept.'s 211 Hotline To Set Up COVID-19 Vaccination Appointments Receives More Than 15,000 Calls Per Second

By: KDKA-TV News Staff

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- The Allegheny County Health Department's hotline for scheduling COVID-19 vaccination appointments at their clinic in Monroeville was overrun shortly after opening at noon.

The phone line opened at noon Thursday for senior citizens, age 65 and older, who don't have internet access or are having trouble setting up an appointment online.

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However, there were dozens of reports about people not being able to get through when dialing the 211 number. Some people were even asked for credit card information instead of booking an appointment.

"It was like calling to get concert tickets. Phones busy. Phones busy," David Panasiuk said over Zoom.

Panasiuk tried to set up an appointment for his 79-year-old mother and 77-year-old aunt.

"I had my mother, my aunt, my wife, me, my brother. Everybody trying to call to get through to them," Panasiuk said.

They all got busy signals. According to county officials, over 15,000 calls were coming in per second throughout the day.

Allegheny County spokeswoman Amie Downs said the "211 lines are overrun and people are having difficulty getting through" due to the "sheer volume of people calling the line to register by phone."

The 211 hotline is in partnership with the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

"I don't think anyone expected to have that many people call at exactly the same time," United Way Senior Director of 211 Michele Sandoe said.

According to the Health Department, only 750 spots are available over the next two weeks in Monroeville. Once those fill up, the hotline will no longer take phone calls for scheduling appointments.

Just before 4 p.m., Downs said that all 750 slots were filled and the 211 number would no longer accept calls for appointments at this time.

Downs said the county is also aware of several reports of scam incidents for people trying to dial the 211 number. She said the phone carriers are conducting investigations into all of them.

Panasiuk said he reached a man who told him it was a longer than the expected wait.

"They're going to give us a hundred dollar gift card that's good for Walmart or Target," Panasiuk said.

He then asked for Panasiuk's credit card information. Panasiuk hung up and tried again.

This time he got a woman who knew he was calling for the vaccine. She too asked for a credit card number.

"What do you need a credit card for? This is a free vaccine. 'It's to hold your place in line,'" he said he was told.

After Panasiuk refused, she hung up. The United Way is not sure what happened. It is looking into the matter. They said those calls did not go to the right place.

"Hang up. Absolutely. We never, never ask for credit card information," Sandoe said over Zoom.

Panasiuk said, "I'm hoping this isn't happening to seniors all over the neighborhood."

Other vaccine providers in Allegheny County have separate registration systems. The 211 numbers is only for appointments at the Monroeville COVID-19 vaccination center.

County health officials say those seniors calling 211 for an appointment will be asked for an email address or cellphone number. They are not required, but will be helpful for receiving reminders.

For those without an email or cellphone, the Health Department said instructions will be provided on when to contact 211 to schedule their second dose appointment.

The United Way's 211 hotline is also providing 24-hour support to anyone with questions or concerns about coronavirus. The United Way plans to continue phone support as appointments become available. It will temporarily close when all openings are filled.

More information can be found on the Allegheny County Health Department's Coronavirus Vaccine information page at this link.

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