Margaret Harding McGill and Kim Hart at Axios:
[Last year] the federal government focused on vaccine production, but left it to the states to figure out how to actually get shots in arms.
- Local governments — dealing with significant budget and staff shortages — generally lack digital teams that can quickly stand up technology infrastructure.
- Tech-savvy public interest groups have offered assistance, but the services they can provide — and the government's willingness to accept them — has been limited.
- Government IT procurement processes failed to anticipate the needs for vaccine distribution or effectively vet vendors, leaving a fractured system.
.The big picture: "Actually delivering services means being tech-savvy today. And that piece is missing," Hana Schank, director of strategy for Public Interest Technology at New America, told Axios.
Early on in the pandemic, it was clear that vaccines would eventually arrive and that technology infrastructure would be needed for mass distribution. But local jurisdictions were preoccupied with contact tracing and securing personal protective equipment — two other areas where tech solutions fell short.
- "Contact tracing was the first big massive red flag for vaccines," said DJ Patil, former U.S. chief data scientist who is now Chief Technology Officer of Devoted Health, and worked directly on state COVID-19 response efforts in California. "People didn't see the opportunity that was coming and the chance to get it right."
- "You can have unbelievable amounts of technologists willing to show up, but we still don't know how to plug them in" to government processes, he said. "So they go with a vendor instead."
Even when governments turned to tried-and-true vendors, problems arose.
Reality check: County health departments are often responsible for distributing vaccines — but their budgets have been gutted during the pandemic.In a survey conducted last June by the National Association of County and City Health Departments, more than 89% of local health departments said general COVID-19 response efforts had diverted resources away from immunizations.
The bottom line: Obtaining a vaccine will get easier, but that's mainly because vaccine supplies will continue to increase.