KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany -- Parents spent hours calling and waiting Friday to grab the first COVID-19 vaccination appointments for children ages 5 to 11 at the largest U.S. military hospital in Europe, while other commands on the Continent made preparations to receive the doses.
The rollout of coronavirus shot appointments, available next week for younger children at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, was bumpy in some instances, leading some parents to voice frustrations on social media.
A Facebook message Wednesday afternoon announcing availability didn't mention the shutdown of the appointment line for Veterans Day, though a hospital patient registration office remained open.
The appointment line typically closes on federal holidays, LRMC spokesman Marcy Sanchez said.
The crush of calls Friday "all at once" took the hospital by surprise, he added.
LRMC officials have said they would update the community when the pediatric vaccine was received, and it came in sooner than expected, Sanchez said.
The appointment line for scheduling routine medical visits was overwhelmed by callers when it opened Friday at 7 a.m.
Appointments for Nov. 18 and 19, the first days of the three-day event, were gone within the first two hours of availability Friday morning, parents said.
The hospital moved all vaccine appointment scheduling from the Defense Health Agency's online app to the local phone line after experiencing issues with the online system, Sanchez said.
Although some parents "may have waited on hold, patient safety was a top priority, so our representatives handled each appointment request and questions as they usually do," Sanchez said.
He added that the hospital had 600 appointments available initially. The hospital hasn't yet announced more vaccination dates.
"I can't confirm if they are full, but if they are, we will schedule additional opportunities for this patient population to get vaccinated with at least the first dose before the end of December," Sanchez said.
Most Army installations in Europe have received the pediatric doses or expect to do so in the coming week, said Gino Mattorano, spokesman for Regional Health Command Europe.
LRMC and other facilities that have the cold-storage capability required for the vaccine are receiving direct shipments from the United States, which speeds up delivery time, Mattorano said.
Other Army bases in Germany are still using the online appointment system at https://informatics-stage.health.mil/COVAX/.
There are some exceptions. Vilseck has a walk-in vaccination clinic Thursday from 1:30-4:30 p.m. at the multipurpose center. Children must have a valid ID to receive the vaccination.
Stuttgart is planning a vaccine drive for pediatric patients on Nov. 20 at Stuttgart High School, the base's health clinic posted Thursday on Facebook, noting that more details would follow.
During a virtual town hall meeting earlier this week, Stuttgart medical officials said vaccination times would be alphabetical, based on last names, "to prevent bottlenecking." Those who show up outside of their designated window will be seen on a space-available basis, officials said.
Other vaccination events announced include:
Ansbach: Nov. 24 from 1-4 p.m. at the base health clinic, second floor conference room; second dose Dec. 15, from 1-4 p.m. Appointments via the DHA app.
Hohenfels: Nov. 22-23 from 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Nov. 24 from 9-11:30 a.m.; Nov. 30 from 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. at the base health clinic, Building 51, at Hohenfels Training Area. Appointments via the DHA app.
Grafenwoehr: Nov. 23 at Netzaberg Middle School. More details will be posted on base social media channels soon.
Garmisch: Dec. 8-9. The time and location are to be determined.
Wiesbaden: Thursday from 1 p.m.-6:30 p.m. and Nov. 22 from 3-4:30 p.m.; second shots, Dec. 9 from 1-6:30 p.m. and Dec. 16 from 1-2:30 p.m. Location is the Bookmart on base. Appointments via the DHA app.
The Navy and other Air Force bases in Europe had not yet publicly announced vaccination clinics for the pediatric coronavirus shot.
Stars and Stripes reporter Immanuel Johnson contributed to this report.