Setting up a COVID-19 vaccination site:
How Essex County tackled tech challenges to get the job done

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The approval of multiple COVID-19 vaccines had many seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. But there’s still a long road ahead.

We’re now in a critical phase where vaccines need to be distributed in a safe and effective manner. To handle the sheer volume, we’re seeing many points of dispensing (PODs) open across the country. These temporary sites in the community enable healthcare professionals to quickly administer vaccines in large numbers.

While this is good news for millions of Americans, there’s a big difference between planning to implement one of these PODs and doing it successfully. And one of the biggest hurdles standing in the way is technology.

Enter Essex County, New Jersey, where five of these PODs are not only up and running, but with SHI’s help, outfitted with the technology needed to create and maintain a smooth and seamless vaccination process from start to finish.

What’s behind the county’s success? Here are three tech requirements organizations and agencies need in place to set up vaccination sites.

1. All-encompassing website

We’ve all seen the stories of countless Americans struggling to sign up for vaccinations.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey from January, 60% of Americans don’t know when or where to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Whether they crash, they’re confusing, or there are simply too many to choose from, the main culprit remains the same: shoddy websites.

If you’re going to set up a POD site, you need a single website that’s all-encompassing and easy to use. This website should streamline the scheduling process, making it simple to book and cancel appointments, as well as sign up at the most convenient location. It should also be able to accept scanned images of insurance cards and record healthcare information ahead of the appointment to expedite the process.

Essex County was ahead of the curve in this respect, testing its website as early as October. Its website consists of both a vaccination and a COVID-19 test site scheduling portal, built by Kesz1. The website uses an insurance claim software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform to process claims on the back end, and registers individuals to sites based on their zip code.

2. Robust call center

What happens if the portal isn’t letting patients schedule an appointment? What if it won’t let them reschedule an existing appointment? What if a snowstorm or power outage hits on the day they’re supposed to receive the vaccine?

If any of these issues arise, you need an easy way for people to get in touch with your POD. That’s why you must build a strong call center – one that can also function remotely.

Essex County outfitted its call center workers with laptops to take home if they have to work remotely and installed softphones on these devices. That way, if they face a weather emergency, for instance, they can use this equipment to log in and work from home, and the call center can continue to operate effectively.

3. Backup connectivity

Each vaccination site is going to have a lot of devices running at the same time. There’ll be phones, tablets, laptops, medical carts designed specifically for vaccinations, and, of course, printers.

Now, what happens if the power or internet go down? How will you continue registering people? How will you continue the vaccination process?

You need to have a secondary form of connectivity.

To ensure its vaccination sites were prepared for this scenario, Essex County implemented Cradlepoint routers that can support 250 to 300 PCs. On top of that, it made sure that the laptops used in the sites all had SIM cards that could power them for eight hours. That way, if a site lost both forms of connectivity, the laptops could still function with the SIM cards.

Hitting the ground running

Even before the vaccines were approved, Essex County saw what was coming down the pike. It wanted to make sure it could hit the ground running from day one – and that meant putting the right technology in place.

With SHI’s help, Essex County didn’t just have the devices it needed – it was able to identify and implement a simple and powerful website, a flexible call center, and backup connectivity to ensure the success of its POD sites while putting its citizens on the path to COVID-19 vaccination.

Carl E. Hunte, Assistant County Administrator/CIO for Essex County, NJ, contributed to this post.