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Virginia and Maryland both experienced issues with vaccine appointment link sharing. Virginia opted to develop its own vaccine management platform, while Maryland worked with the vendor.
States faced a variety of challenges during the rollout of their Covid-19 vaccine programs, not least of which included the scheduling and tracking of vaccinations.
But a glitch in one widely used management platform, PrepMod, allowed vaccine appointment signup links to be shared and created serious headaches for health departments across the country when appointment sign ups vastly outnumbered available vaccine doses.
As many states take steps to open up vaccine eligibility to more people, they are trying to resolve lingering appointment management issues like link sharing.
The link sharing issue became so prevalent in Virginia that the state health department stepped in to develop an in-house scheduling solution. That scheduling system, the Vaccine Appointment Scheduling Engine (VASE), went live March 15 and is being used for management of community vaccination centers in the state, a Virginia Department of Health spokesman said.
“I would not say we've quite given up on PrepMod, but we have rolled out VASE in a parallel track,” said Dr. Danny Avula, the state's vaccine coordinator during a recent press briefing.
PrepMod also lacked certain features that would have allowed the Virginia Department of Health to bulk upload a list of names pulled from the state’s pre-registration system, officials said.
For now, Virginia is continuing to use PrepMod to register individuals at vaccination sites to ensure their information is entered into the statewide system that tracks who has been vaccinated.
“As soon as we have full confidence that that data is being transferred effectively, then I think we can go with VASE as kind of a stand-alone solution,” Avula said.
In the meantime, some local health departments have returned to a platform recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Vaccine Administration Management System known as VAMS, and found that the initial difficulties they encountered when using the software have been fixed, Avula said.
Virginia paid the nonprofit organization that developed PrepMod, the Maryland Partnership for Prevention, nearly $1.1 million for the software, a one-year user fee and use of a consumer access portal, according to contract documents obtained by Route Fifty. A spokesman for the Virginia Department of Health was unable to confirm the cost for the state to develop the VASE system.
Massachusetts, where link sharing has also caused significant vaccine appointment problems, also plans to move away from reliance on PrepMod.
Representatives from PrepMod did not respond to a request for comment.
“The reality is that standing up those sites has been a mixed bag of results,” said Jay Jamison, the chief product and technology officer at Quickbase, of the various vaccine management systems developed for use by state and local governments. “The challenges appear to be around scalability and functionality.”
Getting the vaccine appointment websites up and running in such a short period of time was a difficult task, and likely did not leave room for the kind of fine-tuning that would typically happen and help weed out functionality issues, Jamison said.
Not everyone who experienced difficulties with PrepMod plans to transition away from the system, however.
“We have been working with the vendor and various partners in the counties to make the improvements,” said Steve Kolbe, the chief technology officer for Maryland’s Department of Health.
After rigorous in-house testing, the solution to address the link sharing problem was rolled out March 16, Kolbe said. Maryland counties using the system would still have to proactively choose the single-link feature, so it’s possible that some may not have done so.
Regardless of some of the initial functionality issues, Kolbe said the speed at which the platform was developed and stood up for use was remarkable.
“The pace at which the technology is being rolled out is unprecedented by any industry standard,” Kolbe said. “Also given the nature of the pandemic—it's unpredictable, it is difficult to anticipate, so we have to pivot as things are happening.”
Andrea Noble and Kate Elizabeth Queram are staff correspondents with Route Fifty.