It saddens me to say that the way the Covid-19 vaccinations have been handled in Romania is, for lack of a better word, complete shitstorm .
The main problem came not from the technology behind the platform, though we'll get to talk about that a bit as well. As is usually the case with Romanian authorities, the communication side of things is where things break down.
I'd suggest though at least skimming through the full article.
A short intro
You see, in Romania, like in most other countries, the population was split into three groups in order to more efficiently distribute the vaccine:
- Category 1: persons working in healthcare and social services;
- Category 2: persons with high risk (over 65 years old, people diagnosed with chronic conditions, etc.) and essential workers;
- Category 3: the general population.
To better handle this, towards the end of December 2020 an online platform is launched which initially allows individuals from category 1 to make vaccination appointments at any of the vaccination centers with open spots. Following that, around the middle of February, people from category 2 can do the same.
An issue slowly creeps
Playing a bit with the official data from the government Covid-19 vaccination transparency report, something interesting shows up.
Despite not being officially possible to get a vaccine if you're not in these two categories, looking over the data we can spot something:
Based on the stats from the 14th of March we can notice that already 1950 people from Category 3 had at least one dose of vaccine administered to them.
As is usual in Romania, the official communications said that only essential and at-risk people are able to get vaccinated, and yet the data says otherwise.
I agree that maybe I'm being nitpicky about the issue considering that when looking at the total vaccination numbers Category 3 is insignificant compared to the other two.
The problem is though that the data generally ignores the social impact: after a long period of lockdown where most of the population respected the rules it can be frustrating to see that others cut ahead in line.
And this exact issue of a queue, so dreaded in the Romanian culture, is what will come to bite us again in a bit.
The announcement for the masses
Around the 13th of March the officials announce that starting from the 15th, the general population will be able to sign up for a vaccine, or at least, get on the waiting list for one.
Good communication, right? We have a date, people can prepare, your tech team can finish doing maintenance and testing considering that a large part of the population will be using the website.
Except that on the 14th of March at around 6:30PM the website was wide open for registrations.
As expected, a large number of people flooding the website brings it down, but not before being available for almost an hour during which the waiting lists for the few vaccine centers in Bucharest filled up with hundreds of people.
To address the situation, the officials in charge of the platform announced that they're going to do a staged rollout the next day based, if I remember correctly, on county infection metrics. Based on that, the waiting lists for Bucharest would be open at 3PM on May 15th.
Unexpectedly, at around 4am on the 15th, people could yet again schedule themselves not only on the waiting list, but also to get actual vaccines in some centers.
The rest of the day goes on without surprises, with the platform being either online or offline depending on the actual load.
My main frustration comes from the issues the government had around clearly communicating the scope and timelines of the Covid-19 vaccination program. By not respecting its set schedules it eroded the trust people had in them and their ability to manage the situation.
This was yet again clearly seen when it came to adding (and removing) vaccination centers on the platform: it seemed to happen haphazardly and randomly, without any clear details.
This lead to situations such as people being the 7000th person on the waiting list for a center while new centers were being added with open waiting lists. What's even worse, existing centers were being removed and people reassigned to others without knowing what position you're holding in the queue.
To address this communication problems different websites popped up.
Date la zi offers a great overview dashboard of the Covid-19 situation in Romania, and what's more important, it's an open source project.
Vaccin.live is the most popular of them, offering a per-county list of available centers, their waiting lists and the vaccine used (something which the official website doesn't display, but makes indirectly available in the response payload). Initially it also had the advantage of being updated more often than the map present on the platform itself.
vaccinica is a newer appearance, but a very useful one, providing a data dashboard around the vaccination effort based on the official Covid-19 transparency report.
Bellow is a timeline of the events, but please note that it's mostly from my recollection, so there might be discrepancies around the time and dates of early events (platform launch, etc.)
Vaccination platform launches allowing medical and social workers to make vaccination appointments.
People from category 2 (over 65, at risk, and essential workers) can make vaccination appointments.
Announcement is made that category 3 (general population) will be able to make appointments or get in the queue starting from 15 Mar.
Category 3 people can for a short time make appointments before the official launch.
Platform goes down.
Officials announce a staged rollout starting from 9am the next day.
Platform is again up and open for scheduling.
Platform is either online or offline depending on load for most of the day.
Platform is stable but centers get added or removed randomly with no prior notice.
You too can also play with the data if you're interested using the following Jupyter Notebook.
The source code for it is also available for those so inclined.