The federal government could incentivize states to create one-stop websites to book COVID-19 vaccine appointments with grant money under new legislation introduced by Maryland Congressman Anthony Brown.
The proposal, called the Vaccine Administration Centralization to Coordinate and Improve National Execution (VACCINE) Act, also would create a national website and call center for Americans to find information about the state registration systems, and mandate that sites adhere to “modern design principles” to maximize efficiency.
Brown, a Democrat who represents Maryland’s 4th Congressional District in the House of Representatives, said simplifying the registration process would save lives.
“Unfortunately, too many states are relying on a patchwork of disjointed and cumbersome third-party private systems, leaving many Americans frustrated, confused and left behind,” Brown said in a statement. “State governments must step-up to meet the needs of their residents, particularly those most vulnerable to this deadly virus.”
Lawmakers, elected officials and public health researchers in Maryland have bemoaned the state’s decentralized registration process, with Brown and other members of Maryland’s congressional delegation calling for a “course correction” earlier this month. They pointed to low levels of vaccination among people of color as evidence of the system’s inequities.
But Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and acting state health secretary Dennis R. Schrader have dismissed the idea of a single sign-up portal, saying it could result in a “single point of failure.”
Instead, the state has instructed local health departments, hospital systems, pharmacies and retail partners to coordinate booking and preregistration, resulting in thousands of Marylanders signing up on multiple lists without having clarity of their place in line. Some people have used faulty links to sign up, only to see their appointments canceled. And others, without phones, computers and cars, have been excluded.
Schrader doubled down when asked Monday about the idea of instituting a one-stop website during a vaccine oversight meeting with state senators.
“We’re doing a pretty darn good job,” he said. “The numbers ... speak for themselves.”
Steve Kolbe, the state’s chief technology officer, joined Schrader for the virtual meeting, and said only four U.S. states had developed centralized websites, none of them analogous to Maryland.
“The model we’re following gets the vaccine out to as many people as possible,” Kolbe said.
As of Thursday, about 684,597 Marylanders had received at least one shot, according to state data, and nearly 4.4% of the population was fully immunized. The state ranks in the bottom half of all states and Washington, D.C., for the number of vaccine doses administered per 100,000 residents, according to an analysis of data collated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.