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How Utah and a Texas City Are Distributing Vaccines

While immunization is not new, the novel coronavirus has produced new challenges for state and local governments to organize vaccination.

A main part of the challenge is coordinating technology and people to distribute accurate, relevant information to eligible populations for vaccine appointments.

The approach that has worked for Utah and Seguin, Texas, is to leverage reliable, accessible technology they already have – such as call centers – and supplementing that with additional capabilities to ensure effective and equitable vaccine distribution.

“Immunization is not something new, so we can leverage the existing information,” said Corona Ngatuvai, Enterprise Architect for the Utah Department of Technology Services, at GovLoop’s online training Thursday. “But doing it at the scale that we have to do it today, adds a complexity we need to address.”

For both Utah and Seguin good old call centers with human agents are the unexpected hero.

Utah relies on call centers manned by live agents, helped by artificial intelligence (AI), to ensure disconnected and vulnerable populations are able to obtain vaccines. Call centers are a reliable way for vaccine-eligible populations who are not internet-savvy or without internet to receive the information they need and make appointments.

Seguin also relies on city hall staffers to ensure websites or emails aren’t the only way to sign up for vaccine appointments, said Shane McDaniel, Director of IT for the City of Seguin’s Department of Information Technology.

“We were provided some direction by state government, but best practices didn’t really exist. It was a lot of trying to figure it out on the fly, which is OK. That’s pretty normal for us in local government,” McDaniel said.

Now, it may seem like it doesn’t take much technology to reach people – phone lines certainly seem low-tech compared to other technologies. But there actually may be powerful technology tie-ins in the back end that agencies use that the average viewer may not see.

That is, application programming interfaces (APIs). These are intermediaries that allow two applications to communicate or talk to one another. In Utah, for example, APIs connect disparate sources quickly to help produce one centralized, coordinated hub of information for vaccine distribution.

“If it doesn’t have an API, we’re not interested. Because we’re moving into an age where we have to be able to connect systems to each other on the fly,” Ngatuvai said.

APIs will also be valuable when vaccine distribution scales up and more people start making appointments. Rather than spinning up new integrations for new requirements every time the eligible population expands, agencies can have one consistent, secure API to connect entities together, said Kevin Flanagan, Global Public Sector Strategy and Product Marketing Lead for Mulesoft. Agencies need to keep IT complexity as low as possible, and APIs can help.

They also contribute to the speed at which agencies move, without compromising security, Flanagan said. “We’re really seeing APIs accelerate health care digital transformation,” he added.

If people aren’t comfortable using certain technologies themselves, then agencies can find the tech for the back end, Ngatuvai said.

“We want tech to meet you where you live, and help you get to where you can best facilitate the services and products to make life better where you are,” he added.

This online training was brought to you by:

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