Why the COVID vaccine rollout is a massive tech challenge

January 22, 2021, 4:45 PM UTC

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Back in November 2020, former President Donald Trump promised that the COVID-19 vaccine would be “available to the entire general population” by April, though now that seems very unlikely. As President Joe Biden stated before he took the oath of office: “The vaccine rollout in the United States has been a dismal failure thus far.”

The reasons for the slow rollout are numerous and complicated, but a big piece of the puzzle comes down to issues of reporting and sharing data around the United States. “We really need to think about all the information that’s exchanged, from a federal level to a state level to health care providers,” says Tarek Tomes, Chief Information Office of the state of Minnesota and the Commissioner of Minnesota IT services. “The ramp up, and I think, the investment in digital services, and just making sure that that infrastructure is prepared for the next time is really, really crucial.”

On Fortune Brainstorm, a podcast about how technology is changing our lives, Tomes talks with Fortune’s Michal Lev-Ram and Brian O’Keefe about the ways in which the vaccine rollout is a huge tech challenge. Also joining the show is Dr. Rebecca Weintraub, a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston as well as an assistant professor at Harvard University, who has spent more than a decade researching the best ways to distribute vaccines.

“Our state and local officials are beleaguered. The soft infrastructure they need is minimal and has not been upgraded for decades,” says Weintraub.

Also on the show is Fortune‘s health reporter Sy Mukherjee, who started reporting on the COVID crisis long before a single case was diagnosed in the United States.

“You’re having to essentially create new systems of centralized databases so that people have the correct information, so we know how to actually improve the vaccine rollout,” Mukherjee says.

In addition to discussing the development of a coordinated communication system, the show also tackles the issue of providing the public with the information they need about the vaccine, as well as the push to correct misinformation spread on social media.

Says Weintraub: “We’re seeing that in this early moment, the massive amount of messaging that people are putting out when they received their first dose of vaccine. They’re excited about it. They’re talking about how they’re protecting themselves first, but they’re eager to make sure their communities receive it. And I hope we’ll be able to amplify that message with technology with the social media networks that we’re participating in.”

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