After the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, Massachusetts public health officials built a state-of-the-art data system for its vaccine programs. That system soon will be put to the test as the state deploys its COVID-19 immunization campaign.
The Massachusetts Immunization Information System (MIIS) facilitates vaccine ordering and also tracks the status of patients receiving the vaccine. It is designed to offer patients helpful reminders for when they need to get the critical final dose of the vaccine. The two vaccines — one from Moderna, the other from Pfizer — expected to be distributed to certain Massachusetts residents in the coming months require two doses — given weeks apart — to effectively provide protection against the coronavirus.
"The Massachusetts Immunization Information System is going to be a cornerstone of this whole campaign," Pejman Talebian, director of the Immunization Division for the Department of Public Health, said Thursday during a meeting of the Public Health Council.
The MIIS data system, which first rolled out in 2011, is now fully operational, DPH officials said. It is meant to establish "a complete, accurate, secure, real-time immunization record for residents of Massachusetts of all ages," they added.
Assistant DPH Commissioner Kevin Cranston, who leads the Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences, said the system came about as a result of the so-called swine flu pandemic a decade ago.
"We are building on the experience of the H1N1 pandemic and the learnings from that experience prompted us over the last decade to build a brand new vaccine registry," he said. "It's a state-of-the-art system, web-based, highly secure. It serves as an ordering system for providers, it's an inventory system that allows us to track the current status of the administration of the vaccine, and it allows us to know where they are at any given moment."
In 2009, an H1N1 virus "distantly related" to the virus that fueled the infamous 1918 flu pandemic returned. The so-called swine flu killed more than 18,000 people worldwide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization.
DPH said MIIS was "enhanced" to prepare for COVID-19 vaccine administration.
Not only can DPH use MIIS to track vaccine orders and to check in on vaccine administration around the state, but doctors and others who will be giving the vaccine can use it as well.
"It will be the key tool that all health care providers will be able to use to specifically track their patients and whether their patients have received a first dose, and if they're due for a second dose, and which second dose they're due for," Talebian said, calling the reminder system a "critical part of this whole campaign."
When Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday announced the state's plans to make COVID-19 vaccines available, he said Massachusetts expects to receive 60,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine by Dec. 15 and is counting on 300,000 additional doses from both Moderna- and Pfizer-manufactured vaccines before the end of the month.
More Doses Coming, And The Challenges Ahead
Cranston on Thursday morning was able to provide more details on the second shipment of vaccines the state is anticipating.
"We've gotten confirmation just in the last 24 hours of about 120,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine as our initial allocation for that vaccine and that is estimated to arrive on or about Dec. 22," he said.
As the first vaccine rolls out, the biggest challenge will be the supply chain and making sure there is enough of the vaccine manufactured, shipped and allocated to Massachusetts. But as other vaccine candidates advance and get approved — as Cranston said he expects will happen over the coming weeks and months — DPH's challenges will change.
"Later on, the challenge is really going to be capacity of the systems to perform the vaccination itself," Cranston said. "We will go from a dearth of vaccine to a flood of vaccine and multiple formulations with a significant coordination and administration challenge."