How technology helps administer the vaccine — a customer review

As vaccination programmes continue around the world, I reflected on the role that information systems play in the speedy and orderly rollout. Of course, there are glitches and errors, but when was the last time you saw a piece of software deployed in just a few months with little or no prior testing at *this* scale? In the US, CDC lists the systems and technologies involved in setting up a vaccination centre. Others report how technology supports the whole supply chain. And in this article, I focus on the impressions of a very satisfied end customer.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

The first step towards getting vaccinated was to register my interest on a public authority-ran website, where I could check my eligibility and leave contact details. I was periodically asked to make sure my details were correct, as more and more groups were becoming eligible. When I finally received a long-awaited email that it was my turn to book the vaccination, I was asked to set up a profile on a dedicated website, where I had to insert some more details, and then select a date and a time, down to 15-minute slots. Having secured my appointment, I received a confirmation and then two email reminders a couple of days before the appointment. At all times I could reschedule or cancel. I didn’t, and I went ahead.

On the day, all I needed was the email confirmation I received with a QR code that was scanned to confirm I had indeed booked an appointment. However, if for any reason I wouldn’t be able to show this confirmation, there were dedicated desks where my confirmation could be retrieved based on my personal details. When I entered the vaccination centre, the sheer scale of the operation was so impressive that I couldn’t help but stop and wonder how it was even possible. And yet, hundreds of us were being efficiently moved from one desk to another. At one point I was asked to fill in some paperwork with my details, the same that I had already registered in the system. I was curious why I had to do this, especially because at the next desk a volunteer confirmed I had given all the details correctly in the system. After a quick identity check, I was entered into the internal vaccination administration system.

When I approached the vaccination station, my details were retrieved from a long list of everyone who’d been checked in at that time, on a computer screen. I was asked to confirm a few details to make sure they got the right person, a few questions and instructions followed, and three seconds later, I had received my first dose. It had been registered in the computer system, and I got a paper card with a dated sticker.

The 15-minute wait in the observation area followed. During this time, I received an automated text message with a link inviting me to book my second dose. I clicked on the link and was immediately taken to the original booking system that had already been updated and showed I’d had my first vaccine, and I had to select a date and time 21 to 23 days later. Then I had the remaining 14 minutes 32 seconds to brag about getting vaccinated on social media.

When I returned for my second dose, the whole process looked exactly the same, apart from the last bit. As I sat in the observation area for those receiving their second shots, and I spent the entire 15 minutes being grateful that we were somehow able to pull this whole thing off. Not only actually discover the vaccine, but then be able to distribute it like this. We’re used to using our phones, email, internet for far more mundane things — so much so that we forget just how amazing and transformational all these information systems can be. For me, it’s 5 out of 5.

Now, while we’re at it, can someone explain to me why we still get vaccination cards on paper?!?