Massachusetts HHS Secretary Marylou Sudders blames ‘insufficient’ testing by online vendor for COVID booking site crash

The private vendor Massachusetts contracted to run the state’s COVID-19 vaccine appointment software did not anticipate the website to attract 1 million users the morning of Feb. 18, causing it to crash, Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said.

Testifying before lawmakers Thursday afternoon, Sudders said PrepMod’s staff assured state officials they had conducted proper testing. The application ran well at 500,000 people but crashed the morning of Feb. 18 — just as people ages 65 and up and those with at least two co-morbidities became eligible to schedule a vaccine appointment.

“Their load balancing, their testing had obviously not been sufficient,” Sudders said. “It was fine at 500,000 people. It was obviously not successful at a 1 million.”

PrepMod secured a multi-million-dollar contract with the state after an open bid process in August. Sudders said she worked with the state’s technology officials, including Chief Information Officer Curtis Wood to make sure that the vendor could implement its software on the state’s website and handle the traffic.

After the website crashed, Sudders said she reached out to Wood and his staff. Wood took over to “ensure that all of these companies and their agreements with us lived up to the promise that we expected in Massachusetts.”

In the month since the website crash, the Baker administration has launched a pre-registration website that has mostly replaced the vaxfinder tool by PrepMod. The state contracted with Google Services to build the pre-registration application because other prospective vendors did not want to adapt to the state’s requests, Wood told lawmakers.

More than 1 million residents have received both doses of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, becoming fully vaccinated, state officials say.

Rep. Bill Driscoll, co-chair of the Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management, said the state had turned the page by launching a pre-registration site. The site connects eligible patients with mass vaccination sites and hospitals offering vaccine appointments, but community health centers and retail pharmacies that aren’t already using the site need to be a part of the process.

“The others aren’t necessarily using a pre-registration system. People still have to call individual numbers to make appointments. They still have to chase availability, and we need to increase the number of sites, the number of doses, that are being accessed by pre-registration.”

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