Sunday, April 11, 2021

How to Fix the Mess of Scheduling a COVID-19 Vaccine

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It is a jungle out there. Trying to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine is frustrating and time-consuming. Americans are spending countless hours refreshing web pages or hunting online for clues to help find an appointment.

Americans over the age of 65 are eligible for COVID-19 vaccines in numerous states in the U.S., but trying to get them has become a nightmare for many. Some older citizens have had to travel hundreds of miles to get their shot, and others say even securing an appointment is challenging.

According to The Wall Street Journal, people in Texas are signing up on multiple lists in grocery stores and clinics hoping to get a slot. In Nevada, online registration bumps hopefuls from county websites to state websites and back.

Experts predict the struggle to get appointments will become even more difficult once vaccination opens to the public at large. According to an opinion article written for Fast Company, the mass confusion is caused by poorly designed websites and the lack of a central preregistration site that could coordinate prioritizing and scheduling shots for U.S. citizens.

Tinglong Dai, an expert in healthcare operations management at Johns Hopkins University, says, “the best solution to vaccine appointment scheduling lies in building a trustworthy one-stop preregistration system.”

Dai says, with everyone scrambling to get appointments, websites have been crashing with the high volume. With limited vaccine supply, everyone is trying get appointments at the same time, so available slots are taken quickly.

The expert says Israel, a country that has been successful in vaccinating almost half its population, leads the world in COVID-19 vaccinations.

“Citizens do not need to actively sign up for vaccine appointments,” he writes in Fast Company. “Rather they are notified when they become eligible via text messages and can then make an appointment.”

This preregistration helps reduce the load of calls and emails to vaccination sites and helps avoid wasted vaccine due to no-shows. With an active waitlist, says Dai, vaccine planners can more easily match supply and demand.

Both West Virginia and Minnesota have initiated state preregistration systems and so far, the process has been much smoother than the free-for-all reported by other states.

“With limited vaccine supply, the traditional sign-up model has proven to be both inefficient and inequitable,” writes Dai. “Moving away from that model and establishing one-stop preregistration systems is one key to resolving the painful vaccine scheduling process.”

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