The complicated technology of vaccine appointments
As Counties in the United States are rolling out their Covid-19 vaccination programs. Many turn to a collection of improvised technology to register residents, schedule appointments, and allocate doses. These range from conventional telephone trees to creaky and outdated internal systems via Google Forms to the consumer ticketing website Eventbrite. This step-by-step approach has frustrated those searching for vaccines, created sensitive access issues, and raised concerns about privacy and fraud. With the 65-year-olds vaccinated this week, the problems only get worse.
Earlier This month, thousands of Floridians found themselves in the bizarre position of signing up for potentially life-saving medical treatment with Eventbrite, a website that typically sells concert tickets. Collier, Brevard, Manatee, Monroe, Volusia, Pasco, Sarasota, and Seminole districts used or are using the platform to assign vaccines to seniors and healthcare workers, according to vice reports. Others are likely to follow. The districts reportedly turned to the website after their phone lines were overwhelmed by people calling to arrange vaccinations. Two of my own relatives in Florida made repeated calls to multiple counties across the state for eight hours. They eventually secured a vaccination appointment in Broward County and drove over two hours to get their shots.
Jesi Ray, a communications professional for Florida’s Brevard County, reportedly told The Verge that phone lines were congested in her own county and that Eventbrite “is the only option we have right now. This is the fastest, easiest and most efficient way we can think of to help the Department of Health solve this problem. “
The Brevard County’s Vaccination Program page is essentially the same as any other Eventbrite event. It includes a sleek header with a photo of the Covid-19 vaccine in a glass bottle, buttons to share content, an option to “like” the event, and tags like “Activities in West Vieira, Florida” (with shutdowns, It’s hopefully one of the few things to do in West Vieira, Florida, clicking the select a date button on the page will bring up a list of upcoming dates and times, all of which are “sold out” at the time of this writing The district announces, among other things, the publication of new slots on Twitter.
On the social media platform, users said they refreshed the county’s Eventbrite page frequently, waiting hours for slots to open (many reportedly only fill in 10 minutes) and having problems loading the Eventbrite page . Twitter user JohnCn wrote: “Clicked on your text message and your Twitter post in seconds. The connection is lost. “
Elsewhere on Twitter, users found the process of registering for Covid-19 vaccines with Eventbrite daunting or just plain surreal. Dawnielle Minch wrote, “It’s just too stressful to freshen Eventbrite down to get my parents one of 200 Covid vaccines in Sumter Co, Florida” (she eventually reported that she had successfully made an appointment). Yviedoesit wrote, “I just booked tickets for a virtual stand-up comedy show on Eventbrite and remembered my college roommate is also planning a COVID vaccine appointment for her parents this way.”
In addition to the challenges associated with the limited availability of Covid-19 vaccines, using online platforms like Eventbrite also poses all kinds of access problems. As the New York Times reports, many Florida residents lack internet access or access to modern equipment, which puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to securing a shot. Because many vaccine recipients are over 65 years of age, they may be less familiar with using Eventbrite than younger residents. The Times reports that many seniors are reaching out to their tech-savvy children and grandchildren to reserve slots for them. Individuals with no family members, as well as homeless people or residents who speak a language other than English may be out of luck.
Using a third party platform like Eventbrite has also raised fraud concerns. The Florida attorney general said in a consumer report that “according to recent news reports, scammers were using the popular event website Eventbrite to impersonate the county health department and receive or attempt payments in exchange for COVID-19 vaccine appointments.” Eventbrite denied this, saying in a statement that the pages in question were created due to user error and not malicious intent. Eventbrite has also created a resources page for those who wish to receive vaccines through the platform. The page provides resources for identifying legitimate vaccination events and reporting potentially fraudulent events.
Other registration methods also raise fraud concerns. The AARP warned its members that technology-driven Covid-19 vaccine scams are on the rise across the country. Many of these scams include robocalls, fake social media posts like Facebook and Twitter that offer vaccines, and phishing emails informing seniors that they can reserve an early dose of the vaccine for a fee, according to the AARP .
For example, it could market travel opportunities for vaccinated people or use vaccination status to target them with advertisements for in-person concerts or events. Ticketmaster has reportedly started creating a framework for checking vaccination status at concerts. As such, the idea that Eventbrite will predict vaccination status based on a person attending a vaccination event is not uncommon. Eventbrite didn’t answer questions about using the Covid-19 event for marketing purposes.
Despite these risks, there are compelling benefits to using a platform like Eventbrite to process vaccine registrations – especially when few better options are available. The site was designed to cope with massive fluctuations in server load as thousands of people try to register for slots at the same time, have 99.99% availability, and as of 2016 “100 dedicated engineers” worked to ensure its stability. There are also fraud prevention measures such as: B. the release of payments to organizers only when an event has actually ended.
Many states’ internal systems may not be up to the technical challenge of handling large numbers of users trying to register for recordings. For example, tech Lizzie O’Leary says she was “on the verge of tears” when she tried to get her mother up for a vaccine using the New York State system and reached “the final confirmation page where I confirmed that all statements are true. And the site crashed. ”The Georgia planning site also reportedly crashed during the rollout of its own campaign.
Systems from individual hospitals and medical systems suffer from many of the same challenges. Heather Knight of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote on Twitter that at the Bay Area HMO Kaiser Permanente there were 10,000 callers on hold for a vaccine appointment, resulting in waiting times of up to 17 hours. Her father called the number at 6 a.m. and waited on hold for two hours before getting an appointment. Some health systems and counties appear to have turned to tech tools, including Google Docs, to enroll residents. For example, the vaccine website for Prince William County, Virginia, directs residents to a Google form to register their interest in a vaccine.
Choosing these piecemeal tools may be less about choosing the best possible platform and more about working within the confines of the limited resources for vaccine adoption, as well as the technical fragility of one’s internal systems and increasingly urgent vaccination mandates, as many people as possible as soon as possible. Since registrations are handled at the county level, many counties are likely to try to put programs together quickly and use a combination of different platforms available such as Eventbrite for planning (my own county uses Microsoft Forms for registration).
Without a coordinated federal campaign similar to the centrally coordinated campaigns in countries like Israel, this phased approach is likely to remain the norm for some time. The frustration of these denied vaccines, access issues related to using tech-intensive platforms to handle distribution, and the privacy issues associated with tech companies trusting vaccination data are also likely to persist.
For now, Eventbrite and similar platforms may be the best available solution for coordinating vaccination in many places – or at least no worse than other solutions. Going forward, however, the challenges with today’s adoption show the importance of investing in vaccine distribution technologies before those technologies are actually needed. That way, during the next pandemic, the people handing out life-saving drugs will not be the same people handing out tickets to Taylor Swift shows.