The obscenity of the web-based appointment systems for COVID-19 vaccines

My uncle is the most technically savvy human being I have ever met. I remember watching him as a child as he repaired people’s televisions by examining their circuits and replacing their tubes (yes, TV’s ran on vacuum tubes). As technology advanced, he was often the first adopter of transistor radios, high end stereos, and video recording devices. Even when he led marketing for companies like Cobra, he always seemed to be ahead of the curve. 

So, it is all the more painful to me that at 80 years of age he is forced to navigate poorly designed, unintuitive, and plainly dysfunctional internet systems just to try and make an appointment to get his coronavirus vaccine.

As children and grandchildren have tried to arrange appointments for their elderly relatives, they have been disturbed by the insane internet portals that many communities, states, and health systems have set up. These online reservation systems seem to have been developed based on “The Las Vegas strategy” of having people compete for a rare but valuable and exceedingly random event in an effort to keep them engaged despite having little chance for a payoff.  

Many people with technical skills are attempting to make things simpler, without asking for the $40M no-bid software contract Deloitte Consulting got for the totally disfunction federal vaccine ordering system.

Huge Ma

The New York Times reported today on Huge Ma, a 31-year-old software engineer, who built his own vaccine appointment site in less than two weeks on a $50 investment. His creation, TurboVax, is a free website that compiles availability from the main city and state New York vaccine systems and sends the information in real time to Twitter.

Other sites in California like  VaccinateCA are volunteer-run vaccine finder sites that identify open appointments for eligible individuals.

But these efforts don’t really fix many fundamental problems. State and city vaccine programs are totally separate, as are those of private businesses and hospital systems. One has to sign up for all of them separately, which creates duplication of appointments and potentially wasting of vaccine.

Some private systems are restricted to individuals who have a previous affiliation with a company or health care system. Most importantly, organizations that provide care to underserved population always seem to wind up last in line for vaccine.

This needs to be fixed now. People need one place to sign up for all the programs in their area then given the first available opening based on priority. Yes, we have a major problem now when we are in a shortage situation for COVID-19 vaccine. But this will become a tragedy if people are so discouraged or turned off that they no longer seek vaccination once COVID-19 vaccines are readily available. Also, if we send the vaccine to areas based on redundant internet sign ups, we may be missing the populations that need vaccine the most.

All of this will extend the pandemic and cost lives.

Published by jbakerjrblog

Immunologist, former Army MD, former head of allergy and clinical immunology at University of Michigan, vaccine developer and opinionated guy.

10 thoughts on “The obscenity of the web-based appointment systems for COVID-19 vaccines

  1. If you cannot trust the State, Local and Federal Govt to get out vaccines in a timely fashion, there may be a reason you don’t want to even think about…They want to keep people sick and dying, they want to scare people. Trust has fallen so brutally short in this past year- it’s hard for me to discern anything the Govt tells you. And I’m not one of those people who questioned the Government much but now I do. Now I see it and understand. Greed is driving this disease further and further down the wrong path. But thanks to your daily reports, Jim, they have helped guide me a great deal through Covid data from day one. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. YES you are once again on point!! Thank you Dr. Baker for stating the obvious! Eligible vaccine seekers are truly suffering needlessly. Truly the “hunger games”. We are told to sign up through our healthcare portals. Then we find out that MI health care systems are using a “randomized process” or seemingly lottery method to notify eligible patients. Beaumont said they have 500,000 “eligible” and UofM says they have 250,000. We have to hope that our names will be pulled out of a hat- I guess. I have tried to offer suggestions to state and health department leadership since the Governor announced the next phase was open in Michigan(ie 1/11/21) to no avail. I have contacted the Govenor’s office twice, health department leadership via email and numerous phone calls. I also called my house representative and the county executive. No one seems to care! Eligible vaccine seekers have resorted to obtaining information on social media and apps like NextDoor. This is not ok!!! Thank you for highlighting this failure and injustice!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree!!!!
    I have registered myself, my husband and my 94 year old mother through the health department ( who won’t take phone calls.. We get random texts they are working through their lists through the web and Dept of aging..
    Today my mother gets her second shot through Munson Medical Center. Yeah!!!🎉 This after someone gave us their number to call..
    This is why I am not for big government!!! They are disfunctional!! Sad!!
    Munson is doing a great job!!
    Thank you for you P pondering and enlightens us when we don’t know who to believe.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Agree that it is incompetence, not malign forces at work, and that centralized systems are the way to optimize the vaccination rate. This is an extreme inventory management problem that public health professionals are not typically trained to solve. For those who are old enough, think back to the oil embargoes in the 70s. A centralized system of inventory control, distribution, and a rudimentary “appointment” (odd/even) scheme, largely designed by OR experts, eventually brought the waiting lines down. That is apparently the route taken by West Virginia for the covid vaccines, and it is working well there. At this point it may be too late to impose that in all states. We are in “muddle through.” I do think it will get better in a few weeks, not just because of a bit more supply, but also because the flaws in the current system are being recognized and people are working hard to address them. Dr. Baker, I know you hate politics, but news articles show that as early as last spring, the CDC wanted to establish vaccine distribution plans within the states, but was stopped from doing so by then HHS Sec. Azar.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Agree wholeheartedly! I have spent many hours trying to help an elderly friend get signed up on a list so that she would then have the opportunity to schedule a vaccine, when they became available. She had no idea what to do. It was so complicated and she would never have been able to do on her own. It is impossible for people without any wi-fi connection or without someone advocating on their behalf. With all the capabilities of the US, I cannot believe this is what we are stuck with for scheduling a vaccine, which should be such a simple task! And it varies from state to state, and from county to county!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “One has to sign up for all of them separately, which creates duplication of appointments and potentially wasting of vaccine.”
    The other problems is that it is not always clear who is taking sign ups. I only accidentally heard from a friend that a local pharmacy has a link to register and that they are keeping a waitlist. That fact is not published anywhere except on the pharmacy’s website. I suppose one could randomly check the websites of every pharmacy in the area to see if they have vaccine and are keeping a list. But that doesn’t seem like a good way of setting things up.

    Liked by 2 people

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