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Registration system crashes as Mecklenburg Co. opens vaccine appointments to adults 16 & older

Starting Tuesday, March 30, any person age 16 and older will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in Mecklenburg County.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mecklenburg County's COVID-19 vaccine registration system was overwhelmed by patients Tuesday as the county opened appointments for all adults age 16 and older. 

At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Mecklenburg County Public Health opened appointments for what will be Group 5 vaccinations. The system was quickly overloaded by users trying to schedule their appoint. In a tweet, the county asked for patience as they were experiencing "technical difficulties." 

StarMed, the health care provider administering the vaccines at Bojangles Coliseum, said they simply had too many patients trying to schedule at once. Arin Piramzadian, the chief medical officer for Starmed, told WCNC Charlotte's Chloe Leshner their system was capable of handling up to 10 patients per second register and the demand was much greater than that to crash the system. 

"We spoke with the website that was hosting our appointments and they were prepared for it, they just weren't this prepared for it," Piramzadian said. "It's exciting that this many people want to get vaccinated. it just overwhelmed the system a little bit."

As a result, confirmation text messages and emails may be delayed for patients who were able to secure an appointment.

The new appointments will run through April 12, with openings expected as early as next week. On April 7, North Carolina will enter Group 5, which makes all adults 16 and older eligible for vaccination

North Carolina is currently in Group 4 of its vaccine rollout, which includes adults with certain pre-existing conditions that make them vulnerable to serious illness from COVID-19. 

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"Getting a vaccine is our way out of this pandemic," NC Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said.

The health department said Tuesday's openings will be available as early as next week. Demand for these vaccines will be high, and health officials don't expect to have enough for everyone immediately.

RELATED: Data shows more than 30% of adult North Carolinians are at least partially vaccinated

There are two ways to book a vaccine appointment. 

First, appointments can be scheduled online at Starmed.care, or by calling Mecklenburg County's COVID-19 hotline at 980-314-9400. If a person is unable to get an appointment, they can join the county's waiting list and will be contacted once more appointments become available. 

Health officials are also asking patients who schedule multiple appointments to cancel the ones they aren't using to open more slots. 

Once the supply of vaccine grows, it shouldn't be as difficult. But for now, getting an appointment takes some luck and sometimes flexibility.

"It was frustrating just because everyone else seems to be vaccinated and when am I going to get mine," Scott Shakeshaft of Huntersville said.

He hopped in his car when he heard there were leftover doses at Bojangles Coliseum. He made it from Huntersville just in time to get the second to last shot.

"To know that you can go into a setting and have a sense of comfort that you're protected, that's what it's all about," he said.

So many people are shopping around for appointments, which is leading to a growing no-show rate. But StarMed has a no-waste policy, always finding ways to get a shot in an arm.

"At the end of the day, if you open the vial and a patient doesn't show up or have too many doses left over, we scramble to make sure anybody gets it," Piramzadian said.

Have a relative or friend in another state and want to know when they can get vaccinated? Visit NBC News' Plan Your Vaccine site to find out about each state's vaccine rollout plan.

RELATED: 'Right now, I'm scared' | CDC director warns of rising COVID cases, hospitalizations

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