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Salesforce updates vaccine distribution tool ahead of surge

President Biden moves COVID-19 vaccine availability deadline for American adults to April 19; Salesforce Vaccine Cloud adds asynchronous bookings on more channels to meet surge.

Salesforce on Thursday released a free update to Vaccine Cloud users that enables preregistration for COVID-19 appointments to meet a coming sign-up rush as most U.S. adults will be eligible for their shots April 19.

The Salesforce vaccine distribution system, released in January, now can accept preregistrations for COVID-19 vaccinations. The site will notify people as appointments become available, and process them through a personalized, single-use link. The system also can create appointments and push notifications through multiple channels such as text and email, where before it was web-based. 

The asynchronous appointment bookings come as President Joe Biden moved up the deadline for states to make all adults eligible for COVID-19 vaccination from May 1 to April 19. While almost half of states already offer vaccinations to residents 16 or older, massive site traffic will likely come as the rest of the country becomes newly eligible on April 19.

That could pose a problem for Salesforce's ability to handle a surge in sign-ups, said Nicole France, Constellation Research analyst. Whether built on Salesforce or on other platforms, most state and regional vaccine sites and mobile apps have worked less than optimally so far. Several vendors offer vaccine management platforms, including Microsoft, IBM, ServiceNow and Qualtrics.

"It's hard to single out Salesforce," France said. "Almost universally, all the web sites for getting access to vaccines are just absolutely [not good]. They may have different kinds of bugs, or faults, but none of them are good."

Salesforce vaccine distribution SMS push notification
Salesforce Vaccine Cloud updates enable COVID-19 vaccination appointment bookings on email, web or text (pictured) channels.

In many states, vaccine sites have run into difficulties signing up limited subsets of a state's adult population, such as people age 65-plus and 50-64. Some New Hampshire residents aged 50-64, for example, woke up to Salesforce "unable to process request" error messages or were frustrated by having to refresh pages many times to register for vaccinations in the first few hours they were eligible on March 22.

The state apologized for the technical glitches, and the problem was fixed within three hours. Gov. Chris Sununu said that despite the problems, 35,000 residents were registered during the first three hours, and by the end of the day, 75,000 had their appointments. Other states have encountered different issues, such as California's My Turn site, whose Salesforce site has run into issues displaying availabilities of vaccines.

"This is the largest mass vaccination in the history of the United States," said Ashwini Zenooz, M.D., Salesforce GM and chief medical officer. "I think if we didn't have hiccups, I would worry that we weren't being open about things. Did I expect that there were issues -- and there will be issues -- not just with scheduling but anything else? Yes. The best thing we can do is to quickly resolve [issues] and get it up and running."

The new Salesforce vaccine appointment features, Zenooz said, help solve access problems and relieve the end users of having to refresh screens repeatedly to secure their slots. It will also help promote equity in vaccine distribution, she added, by offering an always-on opportunity for people -- and caregivers registering on their behalf -- to get their inoculation.

NH state vaccine site apology
Some New Hampshire residents received error messages when trying to sign up for COVID-19 shots at the state's Vaccine & Immunization Network Interface site, built on Salesforce, on March 22 when the site opened up to residents from 50-64 years old. The state apologized for the delays.

"With the number of vaccinations coming across the country April 19, we felt we needed to provide a platform so government organizations, hospitals or retailers to manage a huge influx of registrants and appointment scheduling on a massive scale," Zenooz said.

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