BOSTON (SHNS) – The head of the company whose technology is used to schedule Massachusetts residents for COVID-19 vaccination said Thursday a feature that allows people to pre-register for a shot when they become eligible has been available since early last fall and that she thinks the Baker administration has already acquired it, though administration officials said she was incorrect.
Gov. Charlie Baker has largely resisted establishing a centralized system where people could pre-register for vaccine doses that would be distributed based on the phases of the state’s existing plans, though he said after last week’s website problems that it was something his team was looking at.
“We do have technology, and the state of Massachusetts I believe has acquired some of that technology, to allow people to pre-register,” Tiffany Tate, executive director of the Maryland Partnership for Prevention, said during Thursday’s Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness oversight hearing. PrepMod, software that connects residents and vaccine appointments, is a product of Tate’s organization.
Tate said the pre-registration program, COVIDReadi, essentially allows people to sign up to be informed when they are eligible for a vaccine and when an appointment is available to them based on how they fit into the state’s criteria.
“When the vaccine becomes available rather than have everyone being in a waiting room behind 70,000 people, you can just reach into the system and randomly pull — you get 1,000 doses of vaccine, you pull 1,000 names randomly from group 1C — and you send them a unique link to invite them to sign up for clinic,” Tate said. “That is a very orderly way to approach this rollout.”
A few hours later, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said DPH had looked into the COIVDReadi software Tate spoke of, but decided that it wasn’t actually all it was cracked up to be. She said the state has not purchased the software.
“When we evaluated the demo of it, it was determined that, in fact, it was an aggregate data collector, which only assembles personal information about individuals interested in obtaining a vaccine and creating a simple statewide list of these individuals … as opposed to a pre-registration system,” Sudders said.
Kevin Cranston, the assistant commissioner of public health, said DPH and PrepMod have worked to configure the program specifically to Massachusetts’ needs and that DPH has looked at other PreMod modules that they “decided are not useful to our current system.”
Rep. David Vieira asked Cranston if there is “no usefulness in having our seniors and those eligible in various phases to register once on a website anytime they’re available to make that registration and then wait to get notification that there’s a vaccine available to be distributed to them at a date and time?”
Cranston responded, “I would say it sounded better this morning than what our evaluation revealed when we looked at that system.”
States like Florida, New Jersey and West Virginia have reported success with similar pre-registration systems and Sen. Diana DiZoglio recently filed a bill that would mandate the creation of such a centralized system here.
“We are looking at that and we’ll probably have more to say about it over the course of the next few weeks,” Baker said last week. “I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of the details, but it’s different to do this … we have way more sites, a lot more people, it’s a little more complicated to set this up in Massachusetts the way you would set it up in a smaller state. But I do think it’s a topic of conversation and discussion among our team and we’ll have more to say about it shortly, before we get into some of the really big population groups.”
During Thursday’s oversight hearing, Tate said that the Department of Public Health initially began using a version of PrepMod in the fall and that it was initially designed to support access for 800 providers.
“Due to the extraordinary demands of responding to the pandemic, that limit has been exceeded by more than a factor of four with over 2,500 logins for a system that initially have been provisioned to support only 800,” Tate said.
She added that even though PrepMod “looks easy to use and then it is easy to use,” she suspects that many of the providers using PrepMod have not been properly trained.
Regardless of the issues that already emerged, Tate said her company and officials from DPH speak daily and are working together to get the most out of the software.
“To support your state’s needs, we are in ongoing collaboration and discussions with the Department of Public Health to properly align and configure PrepMod into a larger enterprise-level deployment that, working with our partners, can help us meet the demands and evolving needs of the state of Massachusetts,” she said.