People wait to get into the vaccination site at Cross Insurance Center on Feb. 27, 2021. Credit: Josh Kaufmann / BDN

Northern Light Health apologized on Monday after several people were booted from its vaccine registration portal and saw long wait times as the hospital network began taking appointments for people 60 and older, who are newly eligible for the shots in Maine.

Northern Light had been preparing its online infrastructure for the expected increase in demand for vaccine appointments, and said Monday that it had introduced a third-party vendor’s virtual waiting room feature that would kick in during high traffic and prevent the site from shutting down.

However, several people seeking appointments said they encountered lengthy waits in the virtual waiting room, with some saying they saw their estimated wait times rise from an hour to several days. Others said they had been booted from the waiting room after filling out their personal and health insurance information.

Suzanne Spruce, a Northern Light spokesperson, said the tool that provided people with estimates of their waiting times didn’t work as planned “and caused many people to receive bogus, lengthy estimations of wait time.” Some said the wait time estimates they received were days long.

Northern Light is working with the vendor to ensure that the wait time estimator is either fixed or disabled for the next round of vaccine registrations, Spruce said.

“This feature was expected to provide reassurance and instead caused confusion for some,” Spruce said. “For that, we apologize.”

Despite the issues, 6,000 people registered to receive vaccines in Northern Light facilities on Monday as of 5:30 p.m. according to Spruce, who said that number would continue to grow as the site sees high traffic into the night.

Laurie Schweikert, 66, of Searsport said that she was able to get a spot after a “frustrating” three hours of waiting, during which she said she was booted eight times. She said she had expected a long wait time after vaccine access was extended to those over 60 and did not blame Northern Light.

“I kept thinking about the IT people that must have been ‘pulling their hair out,’” Schweikert said. “I would encourage everyone to try and have patience and stick with it. You’ll get through eventually.”

In addition to vaccinating people at the Cross Insurance Center, Northern Light is also opening two vaccine clinics in the Portland area this week — at the Portland Expo and the Maine Mall in South Portland.

The problems with the signup portal were unrelated to those new vaccine clinics, Northern Light spokesperson Karen Cashman said.

A month ago, Northern Light’s vaccine signup portal crashed almost immediately after new appointments were added as the hospital network prepared to begin offering vaccines to people 70 and older at the Cross Insurance Center. Northern Light said that a new server had automatically shut down after high traffic made it believe the website was experiencing a denial-of-service attack.