How to fix the mess of COVID-19 vaccine appointment scheduling

p 1 90607146 how to really fix covid 19 vaccine appointment scheduling

When you’ve tried to get a COVID-19 vaccine appointment, you understand how irritating the course of might be. Individuals are spending hours obsessively refreshing web sites, hoping an appointment will open up someplace. They scan Facebook groups for ideas and insider data. One author in contrast it to Soviet-style queues for cabbage.

The competitors for slots will solely worsen when the COVID-19 vaccination precedence listing opens to the broader public.

It doesn’t have to be this fashion. A lot of this distress comes from poorly designed vaccine sign-up websites, however the downside is extra basic.


As an skilled in health care operations and vaccine supply chains, I’ve carefully adopted the difficulties in connecting COVID-19 vaccine doses with folks. I consider the finest answer to vaccine appointment scheduling lies in constructing a reliable one-stop preregistration system. The U.S. is now close to half a million deaths from COVID-19, and new fast-spreading variants of the coronavirus are including to the urgency. As states scramble to pace up vaccinations and take a look at to stop their restricted doses going to waste, a handful of them are testing this method.

Why did the conventional mannequin go so mistaken?

The standard vaccine sign-up mannequin doesn’t work when the demand for vaccines far exceeds provide.

Beneath that mannequin, the solely approach to get vaccinated is to reserve an appointment slot. Naturally, the fear of being left out drives folks to try to enroll as quickly as appointment slots turn into obtainable. This leads to a rush of folks endlessly refreshing the identical web sites for the few appointments obtainable.

Even if all states had one-stop appointment websites that did not crash under high volume, the restricted vaccine provide would imply most appointment slots would rapidly be taken. That might make it even tougher for individuals who aren’t tech-savvy to get the vaccine.

To fix the damaged vaccine scheduling system, we want to break this cycle.


What preregistration can resolve

Most individuals have fairly realistic expectations about when they are going to be vaccinated. Their nervousness comes from the fear of being left out. To deal with this nervousness, the system should be designed to reassure those that they may obtain vaccines inside an inexpensive timeframe.

In Israel, which leads the world in COVID-19 vaccination, residents don’t want to actively join vaccine appointments. Reasonably, they’re notified once they turn into eligible by way of textual content messages and might then make an appointment.

States can echo this “push” system by making a one-stop preregistration portal the place everybody registers as soon as and is notified to schedule appointments when their flip arrives. The preregistration step helps keep away from waves of folks making an attempt to get appointments at the identical time, which might crash laptop programs, as Massachusetts experienced on February 18.

A great system will make it simple for folks to test their place in the vaccine queue at any time, present an estimated time to vaccination primarily based on frequently updated provide data, after which ship notifications when their date is getting shut. Underlying the system, vaccine doses might be allotted amongst eligible customers on the registry utilizing a lottery system.

A well-designed preregistration system may also assist keep away from vaccine doses going to waste as a result of of no-shows. With an energetic wait-list, vaccine planners can match provide with demand in an agile method and supply appointments to folks a number of days prematurely moderately than scheduling appointments weeks out when the provide isn’t sure. Research in appointment scheduling has proven that no-shows are more likely below lengthy lead instances.

West Virginia units an instance

West Virginia makes use of a statewide preregistration system and has to this point been more successful at vaccinating its inhabitants than nearly each different state. It controls the course of from preregistration to appointment. To get the vaccine, nearly all residents, with a number of exceptions, are required to use the state system, with choices to register both on-line or by cellphone.

Minnesota just launched the same system. “We nonetheless have a frustratingly restricted vaccine provide from the federal authorities, however each Minnesotan ought to know their probability to get a vaccine will come. At the moment, we’re connecting them immediately to that course of,” Minnesota governor Tim Walz mentioned in announcing the preregistration system on February 18.

Extra states ought to comply with their lead as extra of the normal inhabitants turns into eligible for the vaccine in the coming months.

In Massachusetts, the place a vaccine sign-up web site crashed shortly after launching, practically each member of the state’s congressional delegation has urged Governor Charlie Baker to launch a preregistration system. Just a few different states already have limited preregistration systems that might be expanded.

It nonetheless takes coordination

Preregistration can nonetheless create confusion if the course of isn’t coordinated and customers don’t know what to anticipate.

In Virginia, for instance, counties created their very own preregistration programs, however when the pharmacy chain CVS introduced it was taking appointments, users didn’t know what to do. Most Virginia counties are actually shifting to a statewide preregistration system. In Santa Cruz County, California, residents have struggled with a preregistration portal that doesn’t present affirmation or an estimated time to vaccination.


“Effectivity-equity trade-off” has turn into a buzzword in discussing COVID-19 vaccination. With restricted vaccine provide, the conventional sign-up mannequin has confirmed to be each inefficient and inequitable. Shifting away from that mannequin and establishing one-stop preregistration programs is one key to resolving the painful vaccine scheduling course of.