Originally published in Intelligencer.
On Sunday night, New York City comptroller and 2021 mayoral candidate Scott Stringer took to Twitter to call out a trio of city websites New Yorkers are using to sign up for vaccine appointments. Stringer described the sites, run by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and NYC Health + Hospitals, as “complex, burdensome, and buggy,” saying the site was especially hard for senior citizens to navigate. As of Monday morning the city had distributed nearly 213,000 doses of vaccine, and senior citizens, first responders, teachers, and grocery-store workers are now eligible to get the shot. Intelligencer spoke with Stringer about the city’s websites and the comptroller’s ongoing investigation into the city’s handling of the pandemic, which he opened in May.
Your tweet thread got a lot of attention this morning. Have you gotten any response from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene or NYC Health + Hospitals?
We’re continuing to pressure them. New Yorkers trying to get an appointment to get vaccinated, they’ve had to navigate three separate systems. One is controlled by [Health + Hospitals] and two are controlled by the city’s Health Department — and neither of them appear to work in coordination. We’re hearing from young people who are trying to make appointments for their parents who are 75 and older, and they’re having trouble navigating the system. It’s just complex, burdensome, and buggy. You know there’s a problem when you have a site that has a six-step process just to get an appointment and there are 51 questions that need to be asked, including uploading images of an insurance card. This is not how you roll out the most important vaccine in our lifetime.
They certainly had time to work these issues out. Why is it that we are where we are?
It’s the continued failure of management of the de Blasio administration. They were slow to get testing up and running, but, in all fairness, there was this unknown virus that took hold. But we knew the vaccine was coming almost from the moment the virus hit. It was in the can, the protocols were being developed, the approvals were coming in November. The fact that there wasn’t an aggressive battle plan to prepare both a functional website and 24/7 vaccination sites and make this the most important comeback moment for New York was shocking, distressing, and, quite frankly, outrageous.
My job is not just to critique but to offer solutions. Two of the recommendations I offered last week have been adopted: offering the vaccines 24/7 and preregistering seniors for a standby cohort that would get vaccinated immediately. I’m offering new ideas today as well. The city should also develop a database to help hospitals and health-care providers track demand and usage and potentially redistribute the doses if there are gaps. We have to be nimble. If a certain group of people don’t want it, okay, we’ll come back to you. We’ve got to get the vaccine in arms now, and we’ve got to double down on outreach to New Yorkers.
De Blasio did say that it would be a slow start. Last week, he said 100,000 people would be vaccinated, which was just about right. He could conceivably meet his goal of vaccinating 1 million people by the end of the month.
Yeah, okay. If you think 1 million is enough, then okay.
You think the goal was set too low from the jump?
My problem with the administration is not the goals. It’s that the websites are not adequate and the plan is not as robust as I would like. Again, my job is to push and to prod and to ask these questions and to get the administration to change policies when I feel that we can make a difference when we talk to our own health professionals and others. I’ve made headway with the administration last week with just getting the thing ramped up. I’m going to continue to make suggestions. In the meantime, I remain concerned about the websites. We can do so much better as a city.
What grade do you give the governor?
I’m not grading anybody. I’m focused on the back office. I want to make sure that we have systems in place that will make it easier to get the vaccine to the most number of people. This economy does not come back unless we vaccinate.
How is your investigation into the city’s handling of the pandemic going? Any insight so far?
It’s an ongoing investigation. We had to go to court to get information. The judge said we’re going to get that information — not as quickly as I would have liked, but it’s ongoing. It’s not a “gotcha” investigation, but I think we have to know when COVID was here, what we did about it, what we did right, and what we did wrong. We have a lot to learn from this terrible tragedy. I want that to be finalized before I leave office as comptroller.