Licensed practical nurse Starlette Sumpter

Licensed practical nurse Starlette Sumpter administers COVID-19 vaccinations at a clinic at Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell. — WHYY photo/Emma Lee

If you were overjoyed to hear the news of expanding vaccine eligibility and tried to pre-register in Montgomery County, you might have noticed this: The system is down.

“Under Construction,” as the Montco website puts it. According to county officials, there is a perfectly logical explanation.

“This week, we’re moving to a new system to handle our vaccine clinic operations and appointments. This new Microsoft system will provide users a much better experience, it will eliminate link-sharing and the need to use a token to book your appointment,” Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the county commissioners, said during a COVID-19 briefing this week.

The shift will not affect anyone who has already pre-registered — they will be migrated over as the county continues to send out appointments. A launch page will debut on Monday, April 5, once the county is done ironing out the bugs.

This is the county’s third attempt at offering people a way to register for and schedule vaccine appointments.

The registration saga began when the Pennsylvania Department of Health provided a system to counties at the beginning of the vaccine rollout. There were a myriad of imperfections, most notably involving link-sharing and line-jumping.

“Once we realized how much of a problem that was, we went to institute what we are calling a token system, where people had to enter a six- or eight-digit code in order to make an appointment, and that made the links quite difficult to share — but the token system was a little complicated to use for a lot of people,” Arkoosh said.

Knowing it was only a temporary solution, county officials looked for a better alternative. They reached out to other vaccine providers and found an unspecified vendor that was using a Microsoft-based system.

The county will now be using that system, with the ability to make tweaks along the way.

“I think it’s taken about three weeks for this to go live, which is actually quite quick when you’re building something of this complexity,” Arkoosh said.

The Microsoft-based solution prevents line-jumping by emailing a non-shareable link to people, said Megan Young, Montco’s public health emergency preparedness coordinator.

As the pool of vaccine-eligible individuals grows larger in the next few weeks, the new registration method will also streamline phase identification of a given registrant.

“When folks pre-register based on the questions we have set up in accordance with the state and federal guidelines, it will automatically classify folks into the appropriate phase of vaccination,” Young said.

The sharper experience is extremely important for the county.

“This is paramount to make sure that we’re serving our residents in the best way possible and doing it in a fair and equitable manner,” Young said.

The county is urging everyone to be patient and report any issues they experience with the new system.

This article first appeared on WHYY.org.

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