There are many moving parts involved in the Biden administration’s goal to administer 100 million vaccine doses in its first 100 days. Boatloads of data need to flow between manufacturers, health agencies, state officials, and local clinics. An article by Cat Ferguson and Karen Hao, published in MIT Technology Review today, lays out each step of vaccine distribution and explains the hurdles that come up along the way.
At the federal level, the Department of Health and Human Services uses a Palantir-designed system called Tiberius to plan vaccine allocation. At the same time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s VTrckS helps states order vaccines. Both digital systems are constantly being fed data from a variety of sources. The number-crunching involves census data, reports of which areas have clusters of health care workers and elderly people, and information about which places have cold freezers.
“When thinking about the utility of the system, it’s worth noting that many health departments have a shallow bench of tech-savvy employees who can easily navigate data-heavy systems,” Ferguson and Hao wrote. In addition to Tiberius and VTrckS, there are dozens of other technical systems at play, and some clinic workers are still entering vaccination records by hand.
Actually getting the vaccines into people’s arms is the trickiest part. There’s a mixed bag of systems across jurisdictions for scheduling vaccinations and keeping track of who’s been vaccinated. Scheduling through an online system requires digital literacy that not all elderly people possess, and call centers set up as alternatives are quickly overwhelmed.
There’s a lot of technological coordination going into the difficult task of vaccine distribution. To get a fuller picture of all the systems at work, read the full article here.