From now on, every day will mark a one-year anniversary of something pandemic-related. Today happens to be the day that marks exactly one year since the first death of C19 in Canada… at the Lynn Valley Care Center. On this day last year, we were all wondering… how many more will it be before this is over…? How bad will it get…?

It’s unlikely to get any worse than it’s already been, so that part of it has probably been answered… but the slow descent to the finish line – the rate of it getting better — is still undefined… because there are plenty of unknowns. For example, how and when can you book your appointment for a vaccination…

A year ago, I knew very little about pandemics. But I knew a lot about computer infrastructure and computer systems and IT designed to handle thousands of people and millions of transactions per second. Accordingly, if a year ago you’d asked me to put together a system to handle vaccine bookings… from top to bottom – log in, identify securely, book an open slot, have that info make its way to the proper health authority, send reminders, integrate an app, use a QR code, etc etc… off the top of my head, I could have it designed on paper in a week, built into alpha-testing in six weeks, beta-tested it in three months and have a fully bug-free system – reliable enough for release into the wild — in six months. Then another six months waiting for the actual vaccines to materialize. And that’s conservative, and that’s just me. There are people far more knowledgeable with the present-day infrastructure possibilities (I was doing this 20 years ago), so it’s likely far easier these days.

The key to projects like this is to not re-invent the wheel. This isn’t complicated, but it has to be reliable… and, these days, chances are… no matter what you’re doing, someone else has already done it, and done it well… and so you take that, and you customize it instead of re-creating it. We have been booking online for decades. The only thing that needs any sort of customization is the B.C.-friendly user interface, and hooking it into the existing health network. The rest already exists; just because it doesn’t exist here, it doesn’t mean somewhere else in the world hasn’t been doing it for ages. The guts of it are out there and have been well-battle-tested. Attach to it whatever localization is needed and expected… need to be able to book online, need to be able to phone in, need to be able to handle FAX requests, need to be able to accept telegrams. Check check check & check. Integrate it all. Whatever.

It boggles the mind that Vancouver Coast Health, having had exactly a year to prepare for this day, managed to create a system that allowed exactly 369 vaccination appointments to get booked. A “phone-only” system. That system saw 1.7 million attempted calls in the first 3 hours… and more than 3 million by the end of the day. I’m pretty sure it was the same 30,000 people calling 100 times each. There were countless stories of people trying to get through all day: Most of them were met with busy signals and/or dropped calls… and for those that got through, many waited for hours on hold before the call vanished into thin air. Queue the finger-pointing… the government, Telus, whatever. Who could possibly have foreseen this demand? The answer is… everyone.

Excuses are fair to serve up when something unexpected enters the picture, but there was nothing unexpected yesterday. It’s unacceptable and inexcusable. Fishing around for the silver lining, I can come up with only one thing: It can only get better.

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