- The CDC gave Deloitte $44 million as a federal contractor to build a website for vaccine appointments.
- Most states chose not to use the tool due to concerns about its performance, but nine states opted in.
- Several health officials from those states say they’re experiencing technical glitches, including site crashes and canceled appointments.
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Americans eligible for coronavirus vaccines are still struggling to get appointments.
“Every clinic, every hospital has its own mechanism of communicating, recruiting, and setting up appointments,” Dr. Thomas Dobbs, Mississippi’s state health officer, said in a Thursday press briefing. “That’s the real challenge because we have basically 100 different ways to do the same thing.”
It wasn’t supposed to be this difficult. In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed a $16 million deal with the consulting firm Deloitte, a top federal IT contractor, to create a centralized website through which states could schedule their vaccine appointments. The system was also meant to monitor vaccine inventory and report each shot as it was administered. Deloitte received another $28 million for the project in December — bringing the total to $44 million.
The tool the company produced is called the Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS). State officials and health clinics can use the site for free to coordinate their vaccine rollouts. But in the end, only nine states opted in, with the rest — Mississippi included — deciding against VAMS. Many said no to the system due to concerns about its performance.
“We declined to use VAMS after vetting it in January, spending a lot of time looking at it and kicking the tires,” Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said at the Thursday briefing. “We found that it had several limitations and so we did not activate it at all.”
Most states are now left without a centralized system to streamline their responses. But of the nine states that did start using VAM — including Connecticut, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia — many have encountered technological glitches, including website crashes, canceled appointments, and login difficulties.
Since mid-December, VAMS has helped administer just around 4% of the total shots given in the US, or more than 1.5 million.
Canceled appointments and no confirmation emails
States encountered problems with VAMS shortly after vaccinations began in December.
Marshall Taylor, acting director of South Carolina’s health department, told Greenville News that the system would spontaneously cancel appointments and couldn’t differentiate between a first or second dose (both Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines require two shots).
VAMS, he said, “has become a cuss word” at his department.
Lorrin Pang, the district health officer in Maui, Hawaii, told MIT Technology Review that the tool wouldn’t let him send instructions to people about how to prepare for their vaccine appointments. The system often locked him out of the dashboard for clinic administrators, he added. Pang’s drive-through clinic quickly returned to recording vaccinations by hand.
In New Hampshire, residents reported that they didn’t receive confirmation emails for their second dose appointments.
“The VAMS system clearly has issues. It is clunky, it is messy, and we really can’t control it,” New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu told the New Hampshire Union Leader.
Officials say VAMS ‘hasn’t lived up to its promises’
A Deloitte spokesperson told Insider that VAMS was originally designed to help the CDC track the distribution and administration of vaccines “at a limited number of pre-selected sites.” But as a courtesy to states without the time or resources to create or procure their own scheduling systems, he added, the CDC gave them the option to use VAMS.
“Since it went…