Microsoft unveils new vaccine tools to address earlier failures

Microsoft Corp. unveiled new technology to boost government and health care organizations’ vaccine management systems, including scheduling shot appointments and monitoring results, to fix shortcomings weeks after the company’s initial custom-built programs ran aground in a few states.

The Microsoft Vaccine Management product released Friday is made up of features and new apps that the software company said will improve upon and fix the glitches that occurred when its previous effort, the Vaccination Registration and Application System, failed to work properly in New Jersey and Washington D.C.

The new software “incorporates lessons learned from VRAS regarding scalable architecture, improved user experiences for residents and health care workers,” the company said in an email. It also uses health care standards for information transfer so data can be exported more quickly to other record systems, such as electronic medical records. The software also addresses other issues that hampered the previous option, including requiring users to pre-register before seeking a Covid-19 vaccine appointment and providing a way to proactively handle spikes in demand.

Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington, has put considerable effort over the past few years to building and promoting cloud-computing tools for health care providers, as well as selling its ability to manage complex systems that combine older programs and data sources with newer internet-based apps and information. That meant complaints about its initial custom-built vaccine management systems from high-profile politicians and unhappy patients stung. Rival Marc Benioff, chief executive officer of cloud software company Inc., tried to use Microsoft’s issues to his advantage, tweeting at government officials last month that he’d be happy to replace the Microsoft vaccine cloud software for free with his company’s product.

Last month, Microsoft faced three straight days of problems with the District of Columbia’s online vaccination registration as demand for the system far exceeded the ability to handle it. The outcry from frustrated residents led the company to release a statement along with the city government acknowledging “that our efforts have fallen short” and vowing to address the problems. Vaccine registration the following week went more smoothly.

In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy complained about significant glitches in the state’s Microsoft-built vaccination scheduling system, which was marred by issues for weeks after it was rolled out, though that system has also since been fixed. Iowa had announced it would use Microsoft for its vaccination system, but backed out of the contract a week later.

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