Not to judge, but why are smart people often so dumb?
Last Wednesday I got my first COVID-19 shot. Yay! To schedule an appointment I had to go onto the CDC’s Vaccine Administration Monitoring System (VAMS). Here’s a link to their site so you can verify for yourself that what follows is not Trumpian BS (Please wait until after you’ve read this essay to clink the link. It’s a black hole and you might never return.)
To schedule my first shot I had to set up an online account. I got frozen on the first page, and it was not until I figured out that I couldn’t use hyphens in my phone number did the system let me progress to where I could schedule my jab. Along the way I had to set up a username, password — we all know this drill. Does your mother? Your grandmother?
Here’s the question. Why?
If the goal is to roll out the vaccine to as many people as possible, as fast as possible, keep it simple.
Once I was in the system, I set up cell phone messaging as my preferred form of communication. And communicate they did…incessantly. At one point there was a text with three conjoined hyperlinks. I clicked on a couple that seemed like cover-your-ass garbage and went about my day.
On Wednesday I showed up at Waterbury Hospital at 6 a.m. for jab number one. Much about the experience was wonderful. I was in the company of cops, EMTs, a nursing student another doc, we were all going to roll up our sleeves —literally and figuratively— to do our part.
But…at the front desk I was asked if I’d filled out the online release. I said I had not —apparently it was one of the three conjoined hyperlinks that I did not click. I was told that I needed to do it before I could get my second shot, but that they would be able to give me the first.
As she told me that, the cop behind me in line said, “What text? What release?” It was like having my very own Greek chorus.
I then went for my jab. The nurse, Linda, who knew me from back in the day when I worked at Waterbury Hospital said, “Oh, you didn’t fill out the release. I can’t give you the shot without that.”
I explained that the woman at the front desk said she could. To which nurse Linda replied, “I can’t. It won’t release your dose without it being completed.. .but don’t worry, we can do it together.”
And so we did. It took less than a minute and should have been a simple piece of paper that could have been scanned after the fact.
Yesterday, I braced myself to go back into the system to schedule my follow up shot. It was a bit easier as I auto-saved my password and user name, but none of the places I wanted to go to had openings up on the site. I suspect they will, but not yet. So I’ll go back next week and try again.
The vaccine rollout is wicked important. If there’s agreement on that simple statement/prime objective, then everything must flow from that. All barriers, impediments, complications need to be eliminated. If the CDC and others want their data, as they should, then figure out how to collect it without interfering with the prime objective –give people their shots, make it easy, provide reminder phone calls/texts/emails with their next appointment, and don’t forget the Tootsie Pop on the way out the door.
Sadly, until the change in administration we are unlikely to see any kind of coordinated rollout; it is not a priority for them. I posted much of the above on my Facebook page, and the responses from around the country showed tremendous variation, not just from state to state, but within organizations. The high degree of disparity, from super easy, to what I and many others are going through with the CDC’s system, offer a glimmer of hope.
Until we get someone who takes the reins at the federal level, this is a job for each state’s department of public health. It’s a huge task, but if you pare it down to one main objective —get as many vaccinated as fast as possible, it’s quite doable. Don’t overthink things and keep it simple, “Hi, I’m nurse Linda with the Department of Public Health, I’d like to get you set up for your vaccine.”
Charles Atkins, MD is a psychiatrist, author, and professional speaker. His website is www.charlesatkins.com.