On paper, using a website to schedule your vaccine appointment seems like an easy way to gain access to much needed COVID-19 immunizations. But a new investigation from The Markup shows that state-run vaccine websites are slow to load on mobile devices, compounding what can be an already intimidating sign-up experience for people who are less comfortable online.
The Markup conducted its performance tests using Google’s open-source Lighthouse tool, in this case relying on the tool’s ability to measure the time it takes for a site to load and be functional. For this test, The Markup focused on the performance of the mobile version of sites on the Chrome browser and conducted the tests from three separate locations (New York, Texas, and California). Nevada’s state vaccine site was the slowest to load, taking 15.7 seconds to fully load in comparison to the fastest (Puerto Rico) at 1.4 seconds, and the average (Colorado) at 5.9 seconds.
The causes for these slowdowns vary, but in the case of the Nevada site, The Markup suggests that an abundance of interactive, embedded content could be contributing to the slowness:
Nevada’s vaccination page features several embedded YouTube videos and Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts that offer public health information, featuring health professionals answering common questions in both English and Spanish. Our tests show that Nevada’s page has the lowest average performance score of all the sites we examined.
All of that extra information is great, but I think the confusion also arises for less web-literate people because these sites don’t work like scheduling a traditional doctor’s appointment over the phone. Being presented with a bunch of links from the original site out to other vaccine provider’s websites was intimidating for my grandparents — who often worry about getting “lost” online — and I imagine it would be for many others.
The situation is reminiscent of other times government organizations have been tasked with building out essential online infrastructure, like the rollout of healthcare.gov. The federal site’s issues have since been resolved, and state health departments are working at a much smaller scale, but some of the problems are similar. It’s not that these departments are incapable of making a website, it’s that time and resources are stretched thin, and many of them have never really been tasked with a project so huge. “They’ve never required the infrastructure that they do now,” Ohio State University health services professor Tory Hogan tells The Markup.
Third-party solutions have sprung up in response to these inadequacies, from startups focused on connecting people with leftover vaccine doses like Dr. B, to independent vaccine hunters booking appointments for strangers. But there’s no one solution, at least not until President Biden’s promised vaccine finding website launches on May 1st. Here’s hoping that website works better.