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.
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.