It’s no secret that the US is struggling to distribute coronavirus vaccines; some states haven’t received enough doses, and finding an appointment on sign-up websites has been a chaotic experience. A new report in MIT Technology Review looks at why, almost a year into the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seemed totally unprepared for actually getting shots into people’s arms.
According to Technology Review, the agency knew it needed a robust, one-stop shop that could be used by patients, clinics, employers, and government officials. But instead, the CDC spent $44 million on something called the Vaccine Administration Management System —-VAMS— built by consulting firm Deloitte (via no-bid contracts) which was so inadequate that it has driven some states to try to patch together their own vaccine distribution systems instead.
Clinic workers in Connecticut, Virginia, and other states say the system is notorious for randomly canceled appointments, unreliable registration, and problems that lock staff out of the dashboard they’re supposed to use to log records. The CDC acknowledges there are multiple flaws it’s working to fix, although it attributes some of the problems to user error.
And it’s not just a matter of elderly people not being tech-savvy enough to navigate the site (although that is a huge issue); many doctors’ offices who tried to use VAMS have mostly given up. Courtney Rowe of Connecticut Children’s Medical Center told Technology Review that she had become de facto tech support for many patients trying to set up appointments:
“It won’t work on Internet Explorer; it only works in Chrome. The ‘Next’ button is all the way down and to the right, so if you’re on a cell phone, you literally can’t see it,” says Rowe. “In the first round, people using VAMS mostly had advanced degrees. If you’re 75 and someone asks you to log into VAMS, there is zero way it’ll happen without help.”
Take a deep breath before diving into this infuriating report about how broken government systems are contributing to the mess around vaccine distribution.