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Virginia transitioned to a new centralized coronavirus vaccine registration system this week that officials said should help prevent people from passing links they use to schedule shots on to others.
Health department officials in Chesapeake, Virginia were preparing for a coronavirus vaccine clinic earlier this month when the number of people registered for the event suddenly skyrocketed.
Hundreds more people registered for doses of the vaccine than the health department had on hand. The snafu occurred because the vaccine registration system Virginia used allowed appointment links to be shared. So, when a person eligible for the vaccine shared their link, others were able to use it to book their own appointments.
“People are so desperate, they wanted to share,” said Kimi Stevens, a spokeswoman for the Chesapeake Health Department.
Link sharing has been “highly problematic” for local health departments in Virginia, according to the state's vaccine coordinator, Dr. Danny Avula.
“This has been such an area of frustration for so many of our providers and health departments who are trying to get vaccination events off the ground,” Avula said during a press conference Friday.
Chesapeake officials were able to address the issue before the clinic, but Stevens said it took several nurses working overtime for a few days to call everyone who used a shared link and inform them the appointments would be canceled.
The same scenario has played out in other Virginia cities, from Norfolk to Charlottesville. It is not unique to the state. Public health officials in Maryland, Illinois, and Pennsylvania have all encountered similar problems.
Virginia had hoped to resolve the issue through the transition to a new centralized vaccine registration website this week.
The Vaccine Administration Management System, developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was “configured so that once users are added to the system they may search all vaccine clinics with available appointments,” said Marshall Vogt, an epidemiologist with the Virginia Department of Health, in an email. “This can create confusion when certain clinics are set in certain areas for certain priority groups.”
The registration system Virginia is shifting to, PrepMod, is not without its faults. The system is supposed to allow “one unique appointment scheduling link to be sent to intended vaccine recipients for each clinic in the system,” Vogt said. But Virginia public health officials confirmed after PrepMod’s rollout this week that appointment links could still be shared.
“PrepMod has said they are continuing to fix that issue. We're expecting a delivery date of probably mid to late next week,” Avula said.
The shift to the centralized registration system has helped the state in other ways, allowing the state to purge duplicate registrations from the system—dropping the number of active registrations from 1.6 million to 1.2 million, Avula said.
Because the coronavirus vaccine continues to be so limited in supply, registration and appointment management has been particularly challenging for local health departments, said Lori Freeman, the chief executive officer of the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
“Whenever you have something that is in short supply and high demand, you really have to manage the distribution well,” Freeman said. “It’s a learning process. We are learning as we go and doing course correction as we discover some of these issues.”
States have been managing the link sharing issue differently, but Freeman said the more information local health departments can provide about the process, wait times, and eligibility timelines the better off they will be. Providing more transparency about when different groups will become eligible for the vaccine could help alleviate supply concerns, she said.
“There is important messaging we have to get out there that, while in the early phases supply is limited, eventually there will be enough vaccine to go around,” she said.
Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.
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