In the early stages of a global effort to distribute the coronavirus vaccine to those who need it most – a process that has so far been both hectic and slow – some health officials turned to an unexpected tool: the Eventbrite ticketing website .
Before the pandemic, the platform was a place to book tickets for performances, art shows or pub crawls. Now public health officials are using it to schedule vaccination appointments.
Mai Miller, 48, of Merritt Island, Fla., Scoured Eventbrite last week looking for a place for her mom. She flipped through pages with dates and times, updated the website repeatedly, looking for blue booking buttons to show availability.
She found a few, but she didn’t seem to be clicking fast enough. “It was just a mess,” she said. “Like musical chairs with 20 chairs and 4,000 people.”
Ms. Miller couldn’t find an appointment, but others were lucky. Eventbrite has been used to schedule vaccinations in several Florida counties, Vice reported, and mentions of Eventbrite vaccination cards have surfaced elsewhere – such as the websites of Sevier County, Tennessee, and the city of Allen, Texas.
Even healthcare providers in the UK have used the platform.
This has raised accessibility concerns: not everyone has internet access or knows how to use Eventbrite. Those who do will be more fortunate to be able to get online at the right time – whenever there are tons of tickets available – which could put people with slower connections or key employees maneuvering around scheduled shifts at a disadvantage.
And some reports have raised alarms about possible scams. The Pinellas County, Florida Department of Health warned that appointments made through a “fraudulent Eventbrite site” were not valid, and the Tampa Bay Times reported that Eventbrite was used to bill people for vaccination slots, which turned out to be a fake.
In a statement, Eventbrite said it had investigated the unofficial entries and found that they were due to user error, not malice. “We understand that this has caused confusion and we continue to monitor and take action to remove these entries,” he added.
These deployment difficulties are part of a much larger problem: Coronavirus vaccine distribution in the U.S. and elsewhere is an unprecedented project with enormous operational challenges.
Federal officials have confirmed that the rollout was slower than expected. They also left many details of the vaccine distribution process, such as planning and staffing, to overstretched local health authorities and hospitals struggling with a lack of resources.
“It’s stressful for my people,” said Greg Foster, the emergency management director for Nassau County, Florida who works with health department officials to give the vaccine. “We get a lot of angry people who contact us because they can’t get the vaccine and I understand why they’re upset.”
Eventbrite was a useful tool because the county’s websites and phone lines did not have the bandwidth to meet demand – let alone limited supply. “We have tens of thousands of people trying to get 850 vaccines,” said Foster.
Answers to your vaccine questions
If I live in the US, when can I get the vaccine?
While the exact order of vaccine recipients may vary from state to state, most doctors and residents of long-term care facilities will come first. If you want to understand how this decision is made, this article will help.
When can I get back to normal life after the vaccination?
Life will only get back to normal once society as a whole receives adequate protection against the coronavirus. Once countries have approved a vaccine, they can only vaccinate a few percent of their citizens in the first few months. The unvaccinated majority remain susceptible to infection. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines show robust protection against disease. However, it is also possible that people spread the virus without knowing they are infected because they have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. Scientists don’t yet know whether the vaccines will also block the transmission of the coronavirus. Even vaccinated people have to wear masks for the time being, avoid the crowds indoors and so on. Once enough people are vaccinated, it becomes very difficult for the coronavirus to find people at risk to become infected. Depending on how quickly we as a society achieve this goal, life could approach a normal state in autumn 2021.
Do I still have to wear a mask after the vaccination?
Yeah, but not forever. The two vaccines that may be approved this month clearly protect people from contracting Covid-19. However, the clinical trials that produced these results were not designed to determine whether vaccinated people could still spread the coronavirus without developing symptoms. That remains a possibility. We know that people who are naturally infected with the coronavirus can spread it without experiencing a cough or other symptoms. Researchers will study this question intensively when the vaccines are introduced. In the meantime, self-vaccinated people need to think of themselves as potential spreaders.
Will it hurt What are the side effects?
The vaccine against Pfizer and BioNTech, like other typical vaccines, is delivered as a shot in the arm. The injection is no different from the ones you received before. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines, and none of them have reported serious health problems. However, some of them have experienced short-lived symptoms, including pain and flu-like symptoms that usually last a day. It is possible that people will have to plan to take a day off or go to school after the second shot. While these experiences are not pleasant, they are a good sign: they are the result of your own immune system’s encounter with the vaccine and a strong reaction that ensures lasting immunity.
Will mRNA vaccines change my genes?
No. Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use a genetic molecule to boost the immune system. This molecule, known as mRNA, is eventually destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse with a cell, allowing the molecule to slide inside. The cell uses the mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus that can stimulate the immune system. At any given moment, each of our cells can contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules that they produce to make their own proteins. As soon as these proteins are made, our cells use special enzymes to break down the mRNA. The mRNA molecules that our cells make can only survive a few minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is engineered to withstand the cell’s enzymes a little longer, so the cells can make extra viral proteins and trigger a stronger immune response. However, the mRNA can hold for a few days at most before it is destroyed.
In Brevard County, Florida, health department officials administered hundreds of doses daily. “Our staff, complemented by an Incident Management strike team consisting of National Guards and paramedics, are incredible,” said Anita Stremmel, deputy director of the county’s health ministry.
But the logistics weren’t easy. “Initial efforts to make appointments over the phone resulted in phone outages and disconnections,” she said. When officials there saw other counties using Eventbrite, they decided to follow suit.
To avoid fraud, people should only access the Eventbrite site through the Department of Health’s website, Ms. Stremmel said.
Ms. Miller, who lives in Brevard County, said someone posted her a link to Eventbrite vaccination bookings last week. “My first reaction was that it doesn’t look real,” she said.
But she was determined to help her mother Chut Agger, 68, get an appointment. A visit to the county website confirmed the Eventbrite link was real, so Ms. Miller tried her luck. She knew the platform because she had used it before – to buy concert tickets – but she still couldn’t secure a seat.
“I couldn’t imagine my mother, who is not at all tech-savvy, trying to make the appointment herself,” Ms. Miller said.
Ms. Agger agreed that she was unfamiliar with the art of Eventbrite booking. Their preferred medium was the telephone. Before her daughter tried to get an appointment online, Ms. Agger called the district health department for hours to make an appointment. She used two phones at the same time and hit the redial button hundreds of times. It never reached anyone.
Ms. Agger recalled news reports where other Floridians stood outside for hours asking for vaccinations, which were given based on availability. “All the elderly stand in line and sit there overnight – that’s just not right,” she said. She has no plans to try this tactic herself.
“No,” she said. “I’ll just wait.”
In a statement, Eventbrite, which describes itself as a “self-service ticketing and experience platform,” said anyone using the platform to register for coronavirus-related events should direct their questions to local health authorities.
“We are actively investigating how our platform can best support efforts to improve access to vaccines,” it said.
The company did not answer questions about protecting the privacy of people who booked vaccination appointments on the platform.
However, she stressed that local officials appear to be using whatever resources they have at their disposal to make the vaccine available to as many people as possible, adding that better planning and coordination by state and federal officials would have helped them.
“Now each county and institution really needs to catch as much as they can – try to vaccinate the population fairly while they try to get more government products into the states and then use whatever products they have” says Professor Spector. Said Baghdady. “It’s extraordinarily complex, so I have nothing but sympathy for these health care workers who are trying to get shot in the arms.”
For now, it seems that regulators won’t get in their way. The Civil Rights Office at the Department of Health and Human Services “is not interested in imposing HIPAA penalties on providers who do their best to vaccinate people quickly,” said its director Roger Severino.
Ms. Miller said she wasn’t particularly concerned about privacy when she used Eventbrite to find a vaccination appointment for Ms. Agger. Her main focus, she said, was keeping her mother safe from Covid-19.
“Now there is this vaccine and it seems almost out of reach,” she said. “It’s there, but we can’t get it. There has to be a better way. “