Written by Scott Stringer and originally published by Fortune.
After months of social, emotional, and economic suffering and unprecedented loss of life, the prospect of widely available vaccines has offered New Yorkers hope for the end of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resumption of normal life. But early delays and complications in the vaccines’ rollout have left New Yorkers confused and concerned.
We need fast, transparent, and equitable vaccine distribution. But the city’s coordination and communication have been inadequate: Only 34% of the total vaccine doses delivered to sites around the city have been administered, and there are widespread reports of vaccine doses languishing in freezers rather than being deployed to the long list of people anxiously waiting their turn.
When it comes to actually getting an appointment for the vaccine, New Yorkers have to navigate multiple distribution systems—each complex and buggy. One of the websites has a multistep verification process just to set up an account and then a six-step process to set up an appointment. Nothing about these platforms is fast or accessible—especially to vulnerable communities and seniors. This includes people without Internet access, lacking digital literacy, and with language barriers.
We’ve had months to prepare for an effective, efficient rollout. New York City should have been No. 1 in vaccinations in the nation from day one—using every tool at our disposal to set up a smooth, equitable process. Instead we’ve set up a bottlenecked, bug-ridden system that discourages and disenfranchises the very same people who have been hit hardest by this pandemic and who need the vaccine most.
Any roadblocks getting shots in arms is only going to prolong the agony of this public health and economic crisis. We should optimize vaccine access and distribution in a number of commonsense ways.
First, we should implement a single, functional online platform for vaccine sign-ups. Rather than have multiple ineffectual city government websites, we need one city platform that works.
With dramatically better design on the front and back ends, we can fix the complicated user experience that has confounded New Yorkers and ensure the platform can seamlessly allow sign-ups without bugs, crashes, and lockouts. We should of course be gathering basic details about those vaccinated—age, race, occupation, and the zip code where they live—but beyond that, signing up should take no more than a minute or two.
Second, we must develop a centralized database to help hospitals and health care providers track demand and usage. Real-time data is crucial to ensuring an effective response to this virus. Vaccines have stringent storage requirements and an uncertain supply chain, which pose logistical challenges to moving them around quickly.
Centralized reporting, procurement, and stock management will forecast needs more clearly, and help allocate and redistribute vaccine doses to areas of higher need. A central database would also streamline targeted technical, administrative, and financial assistance.
Third, we should immediately and widely publicize information on vaccine eligibility, where to receive vaccinations, and how to register in advance. There must be constant, clear communication with residents about how the vaccines are being rolled out and when different categories of New Yorkers are eligible to register for waiting lists, make appointments, or walk in.
Fourth, let’s stop reserving existing stock for a second round of vaccinations. Our private hospital systems are not doing so and neither should our public ones, and arguments otherwise perpetuate structural inequity in our health systems and in our city.
New York City built a nationally recognized COVID-19 testing system—and we must apply the same energy to vaccine deployment. Every moment we delay prolongs the physical and economic pain that we have already endured for too long. We cannot afford to waste any more time—or doses.