The pandemic has made nearly every company and municipality take on responsibilities it didn’t once have, and the vaccination process has turned municipalities into medical booking companies. When the City of Dallas launched its vaccination hub, it turned to local medical technology company Blockit to help them schedule the vaccination appointments. Neither organization intended to get into this type of work, but unprecedented times call for innovative solutions.
Blockit began working in COVID-19 assistance in March when they offered their technology for free for scheduling COVID-19 tests. The company’s technology can be used as a scheduler but is designed to help patients not get lost between physicians during the referral process.
When cities, counties, and states began managing vaccinations for their residents, many around the country turned to Blockit, who already had extended networks nationwide through various health systems. Blockit offered their services at a deep discount, allowing cities to use their cloud-based registration system to handle the inevitable demand.
When the city announced it would be launching its registration system after some disagreements between Mayor Eric Johnson and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins about how the county’s registration site was being run, staff began exploring how they could stand up a system. The city had never done anything at the scale it would need.
“We’re not really in the vaccine business. That’s not really one of our day-to-day operational duties,” says Stephan Lopez Jr., the section chief of Geospatial Intelligence & Analytics at Dallas Fire-Rescue. “We were having to start everything up from scratch.”
Neil Brown is a geographic information systems analyst for Dallas Fire and Rescue and was part of the team that began researching how to make this happen. He became aware of how Rockwall notified residents about their vaccination appointments and saw that a company called Blockit was behind the registration system. He began to dig into the program to see if it could do what they needed.
Blockit was able to create a waitlist, notify residents of their appointments, and handle the volume without any lag time on the city’s side of the technology. The town used the local health department’s list of those who were eligible for the vaccine and moved forward from there. “We could target those individuals through a notification and say, ‘Here’s your opportunity, please go to this link and schedule your appointment’ instead of inundating a 311 call center with hundreds of 1000s of people trying to get on the list and then validating off the eligibility list,” Brown says. “That would be a huge bottleneck for a call center.”
While the technology was ready to handle the volume, there wasn’t away to keep the registration links from being shared at first. When an eligible resident for the vaccination received a notification and link, they often shared the link with others, who could register like anyone else. But when those residents showed up at the vaccine site, they weren’t on the eligibility list and were denied a vaccine. The issue was not limited to Dallas.
“Everybody in the nation completely underestimated the amount of fraud people would commit to get a vaccination,” says Dave Gregorio, the chief client officer of Blockit. “Lying about your age, lying about any chronic conditions, cutting in line, falsifying confirmations. I could show you probably 15 photoshopped email confirmations.”
During the first week of vaccinations, 40 percent of those that showed up were ineligible because of shared links. The city had to layer an additional site on top of Blockit that gave eligible residents a unique ID number to register to sift out those who weren’t in the right tier. After they implemented the new layer of security, there were only 14 people turned away out of 1,400 scheduled appointments.
After nearly a year of the pandemic and death tolls continuing to rise, the public was desperate to be vaccinated, and there was a lot of pressure to make sure its distribution was equitable, efficient, and useful. Though there were hiccups along the way, many of the issues have been resolved, thanks to the hard work of city officials like Brown and Lopez. Many were up until two or three in the morning, going through lists, verifying the data, and making sure people who were most vulnerable received the vaccine.
“Each and every man and woman that was part of this mission was bending over backward to make sure that this happened for our residents,” Lopez says. “A lot of times, it’s the complaints that receive the headlines, but at the end of the day, we were we would systematically changing the nature of our business to accommodate our residents.”