Microsoft system blamed for NJ vaccine reservation problems

(Bloomberg) – Five weeks of Microsoft Corp. stumbles. on New Jersey’s Covid-19 vaccine reservation software have left the state pushing for daily fixes to almost every part of the system and doubting it will ever work as intended, members of the governor’s administration say Phil Murphy.

The issues – and the patch attempts that forced a mega-site to temporarily go offline – have led New Jersey to rely more on well-functioning county and hospital websites and have seen more than 1.2 scheduling programs. million doses in the country’s most densely populated state. Officials say these systems successfully book thousands of people. They fear that the state’s reservation portal, running on Microsoft software and working for a limited number of residents, will not withstand widespread demand as eligibility is ultimately open to millions more.

Healthcare has become a major focus for Microsoft, which in May unveiled an industry-specific cloud software package. The world’s largest software company, which hired executives with medical training, also looked for machine learning and artificial intelligence tools for areas such as clinical trials and patient care.

In late January, the Redmond, Wash., Based company touted its Microsoft Vaccination Management platform – usable by those looking for vaccines and healthcare providers – to record, schedule, track supplies, and streamline. otherwise the largest vaccination effort in US history.

The platform has yet to function properly for New Jersey in the state’s efforts to vaccinate its residents against the coronavirus, according to two administration officials who asked not to be identified to discuss contractual issues. Governor Murphy and State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli admitted there was an issue with Microsoft during a February 10 briefing, but did not detail the issues.

Since the state’s website CovidVaccine.nj.gov went live on January 5, the software has booked thousands of appointments. But it also blocked users, lost registrations, booked duplicate residents and crashed for periods of five minutes to three days, officials said. Although Microsoft has been working on the issues on a daily basis, officials said they were not convinced they would get all of the features required in its contract with the company.

In a statement, Microsoft acknowledged the difficulties in booking the shots but did not specify the problems.

“We are working with the state of New Jersey to deliver vaccines as quickly, safely and efficiently as possible, and that includes resolving some technical issues,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in an email.

New Jersey officials declined to say whether the state was considering canceling the contract with Microsoft, but said they were looking for all kinds of solutions and workarounds. The cost of the contract was not readily available.

New Jersey has been one of the oldest and hardest hit U.S. states by Covid-19, recording nearly 21,000 deaths with a laboratory-confirmed link to the disease caused by the coronavirus. Murphy, a first-term Democrat running for reelection this year, has pledged to vaccinate 4.7 million people, or 70% of the state’s population, by the end of June. So far, New Jersey has administered nearly 1.2 million doses, or one tenth of the population who received at least one dose, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

State officials said Microsoft appears to be using too few staff, with some key staff in overseas time zones leaving them unavailable during business hours in the United States.

Officials said they conferred with other states using versions of the same software, which is based on the Microsoft Dynamics customer relationship management platform. The task seems to go more smoothly, they said, in places that demanded fewer applications – for example, simple planning rather than more complex services.

In Oklahoma, the Microsoft-built system has performed well since its deployment in January, said Buffy Heater, assistant deputy commissioner in that state’s Department of Health. Almost 175,000 residents have made vaccine appointments and 730,000 residents have signed up to receive vaccines when they become available.

While there were minor issues, Microsoft fixed them quickly and “we were happy with Microsoft’s ability to work on the fly with us, Heater said. “We’re kind of building the plane because it’s already taxiing on the runway and getting ready to take off, but that’s the case with everything Covid.”

Iowa, after announcing a one-day offer window, announced on February 8 that it would award Microsoft an emergency vaccine reservation contract. The software company also plans to launch the Wisconsin online system on February 15.

New Jersey officials turned to Microsoft for help in a vaccination effort they described as unprecedented and complicated, requiring software that could multitask and remain navigable by a population comprising of elderly people who are not necessarily tech savvy. But the system did not work as expected.

For example, one of the state’s largest vaccination sites, in Gloucester County, was hampered for a week by a series of problems, officials said.

On January 28, hundreds of unexpected vaccine researchers showed up on the megasite, misled by a system that had shown available slots. In another incident, county officials were forced to contact a group of people ready to receive their second dose of Pfizer Inc./BioNTech and Moderna Inc. vaccines because they were unable to make an appointment. on the website.

More generally, residents on February 9 found themselves unable to schedule vaccines through the state’s call center, which also relied on Microsoft technology. New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said administrators disabled the feature because it was malfunctioning and staff at the center needed more training.

The recent experience is a far cry from that of last May, just after New Jersey hit a peak in daily hospitalizations and deaths, when Murphy praised the software company for helping enroll volunteers in the field. health and hospital data collection to assist with staffing and bed management.

“To everyone at Microsoft who has been a vital partner in our IT team, New Jersey thanks you,” Murphy said at a May 9 virus briefing in Trenton.

Eight months later, however, on January 6, Persichilli called Microsoft by name in one of the governor’s press briefings. She said “huge interest in receiving the vaccine” has caused “capacity challenges” with the state’s Microsoft-managed system.

(Updates with number of doses administered in New Jersey)

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About Jonathan J. Kramer

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