Slow progress improving state vaccine website

Photo from the U.S. Department of Defense.

Millions of additional Ohioans are becoming eligible for a coronavirus vaccine, but the state’s website intended to help you find a shot continues not to be very useful.

That’s because many of the largest vaccine providers in Ohio — such as Kroger — still have not integrated their shot-scheduling systems into the state’s.

You might not know that to hear Gov. Mike DeWine and Kroger officials. Speaking last week at a mass-vaccination site in Cincinnati, DeWine told Kroger Corporate Affairs Manager Erin Rolfes that Kroger has been “a real partner with the state.” He also told her how impressed he and his wife, Fran, were with Kroger’s vaccine-scheduling technology.

“Our Kroger technology team has been working really hard to make that as easy as possible for folks to navigate,” Rolfes replied.

However, Kroger officials didn’t respond last week or on Tuesday when asked why they haven’t integrated their system with the state’s Get the Shot website, which is meant to help Ohioans to find shots among all providers — not just mega-grocer Kroger. 

With all Ohioans over 16 becoming eligible for shots starting next Monday, it’s important that people have an efficient way to schedule one of the tens of thousands of vaccinations being performed each day in Ohio. But thanks to the non-integration of Kroger and some other big providers, don’t expect efficiency from the state’s website.

A spokeswoman with the Ohio Department Health last week explained that if all providers were fully integrated, the state system would be highly efficient. Only providers who had available appointments would appear when you logged on, so you wouldn’t have to click through website after website looking for an appointment, she said.

But because Kroger and many others haven’t integrated, the situation is the reverse. Go onto the site and all you’re likely to see is links to external sites for stores like Kroger’s where you have no idea if shots are available or not.

Rolfes said that more than 200 Kroger stores across Ohio are providing coronavirus vaccines. So those stores are taking up a lot of space on the state website, which lists providers within 20 miles of your zip code.

When you enter a Columbus zip (43206), 20 providers appear. All are links to external websites so presumably, none are integrated into the state system. Of those, six are Kroger stores and three are Walgreens, which didn’t seem interested in integrating into the state website.

“At this time, we are not utilizing the state scheduler to schedule appointments,” a spokeswoman said in an email. “Our stores are listed on vaccinefinder.org (which does appear to list stores with available appointments) and included in the list of stores participating in the program on the state’s provider website.

“Ohio customers can also check if they are eligible for vaccination in Ohio and find out which Walgreens locations are offering vaccinations in their area by visiting Walgreens.com/ScheduleVaccine or calling our phone scheduler at 1-800-Walgreens, which is available in English and Spanish.”

Unless such big providers integrate into the state website, it might not be any more useful than undertaking your own hunt through pharmacy sites and county health departments for a shot.

Asked last Thursday about the matter, DeWine Press Secretary Dan Tierney said, “Kroger has one of the most sophisticated scheduling systems among Ohio COVID vaccine providers. We continue to work with Kroger and all providers on determining when we can integrate their scheduling into our Get the Shot website.”

On Tuesday, state health department spokeswoman Alicia Shoults said her colleagues continue to work on the problem.

“Some integrations with external electronic health record (EHR) systems are live now, including two large hospital systems, and several other providers are testing the integration and preproduction and are poised to go live,” she said in an email. “The state is actively working with other EHR providers and vaccinators to ensure all Ohioans have the smoothest experience possible when searching for a location to get the shot.”

Meanwhile, the portion of Ohio adults who have been vaccinated continues to grow. That’s important because some scary variants of the virus are spreading and we need more than 70% of the population to be immunized to tamp them down.

So far, almost 3 million — or 25% — of Ohioans have received at least a first dose of vaccine.

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