OP-ED: Pennsylvania needs a vaccine registry, not a vaccine lottery

Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, Rep. Austin Davis, Rep. Jennifer O’Mara and Pam Snyder
House Democratic Policy Committee
In this Dec. 29, 2020, file photo, Penny Cracas, with the Chester County, Pa., Health Department, fills a syringe with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine before administering it to emergency medical workers and healthcare personnel at the Chester County Government Services Center in West Chester, Pa.

Imagine trying to play the lottery, but, instead of just buying a ticket at your local dealer you had to use a piece of technology you’ve never seen before, there were only a limited number of lottery tickets (and nobody knows the number), and the form you fill out is in another language.

Now, imagine if you don’t get your ticket you might die.

This is what older Pennsylvanians — rural and urban — are going through trying to find a COVID-19 vaccine.

People are setting alarms for 4 a.m., spending hours on the phone, trying to negotiate a maze of websites and apps where no two interfaces are the same, and even traveling hundreds of miles to get appointments for themselves or for older loved ones who need the shot the most, but are struggling with a potentially lethal technology gap.

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Vaccines are our best road back, but right now that road is a pothole-laden, detour-filled collection of dead ends, not a consolidated effort to protect the people.

We can do better. We have a plan to create a central registry at the Department of Health where you can register for the vaccine for yourself and your loved ones. This registry will let you note membership in a vaccine class, submit evidence of pre-existing conditions, and tell providers how far you are willing to travel to receive the vaccine. 

Vaccine providers can then use their technology to select people based on their doses available and match them to a list of participants ready and willing to receive the vaccine. They can reach out with a phone call, text, email — whatever the person registering chooses as the best form of contact.

This system allows people to proactively register, prevent the shutdown of online systems overwhelmed by desperate registrants, and give peace of mind that as soon as a local appointment is available those who qualify will be contacted first. 

We have survived this long, but now it’s time to take a breath and put a system in place to get us beyond this pandemic. This legislation will support current efforts by the Department of Health to get more vaccines out to our local communities and continue prioritizing those most at risk. 

We hope that our colleagues in the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the Administration will join us in supporting this solution. We hear you, we hear and share your frustration, and we hope you will support this effort to start making the vaccine process better. This way, we all win and we all get back to normal that much faster.

— State Rep. Ryan Bizzarro represents Erie; Rep. Austin Davis represents Allegheny; Rep. Jennifer O'Mara represents Delaware; and Rep. Pam Snyder represents Greene, Fayette and Washington.