Kim Reynolds 2_17

Gov. Kim Reynolds discusses Iowa's COVID-19 response at a news conference Feb. 17, 2021, at Iowa PBS. (Screen shot from Iowa PBS livestream)

Gov. Kim Reynolds said Wednesday she has abandoned plans to hire a contractor to set up a statewide vaccine registration and scheduling process for Iowa.

Speaking at a press conference, Reynolds said that over the past week, her office has been “exploring every tool available to improve the vaccine distribution process.”

She said “in order to understand the full extent our options,” the state sought bids last week on a contract to construct a centralized vaccine scheduling system that would eliminate some of the logistical hurdles now faced by Iowans trying to get a vaccine.”

Last week, the state announced it intended to select Microsoft to create a centralized process to assist Iowans in locating and scheduling vaccines. People have complained about having to search multiple websites at all hours of the day and night, trying to schedule an appointment.

“We have been in discussions with Microsoft about their vaccine registration and scheduling platform,” Reynolds said. “After learning more about the breadth of Microsoft’s solution, and reviewing the challenges faced by some other states in their rollouts and speaking with our various vaccine partners, we have made the determination not to move forward with the contract.”

The governor said it quickly became apparent that integrating the existing registration and scheduling platforms used by various public health agencies and pharmacies with a new, centralized system would not be possible “without significant disruption” of those existing systems.

“So we’re now shifting our focus from building a different system to optimizing the overall registration and scheduling process” that is now in place, Reynolds said. She said her team is “actively determining” how to remove the barriers Iowans currently face in attempting to schedule a vaccine appointment.

“Further updates will continue to be provided,” she said, adding that Iowa is now looking at what other states are doing to facilitate the current rollout of their coronavirus vaccine program.

Reynolds said the state might eventually make use of the 24-hour 2-1-1 call centers that currently handle requests for social services and assistance with housing, clothing, mental health and transportation issues.

“As we, again, kind of research what other states are doing, we’re taking a look at 2-1-1, the call centers that we (now) have, and we’re looking for opportunities that we can enhance that,” Reynolds said. “Part of the issue is that Iowans are already used to utilizing that call center, and so that’s normally where they would go and we just want to be careful about layering other options on top of that.”

Reynolds acknowledged that Iowa’s 2-1-1 call centers are not yet capable of scheduling vaccine appointments for people. “But we’re looking at what we can do that to enhance that, right?” she asked, turning to public health officials in the room.

Asked what older Iowans should do today if they’re having trouble scheduling an appointment, she said they should call their regional Area Agency on Aging — a network of publicly funded but privately run agencies that help older Iowans with health, housing and other issues.

“We’re continuing to look for ways to streamline the process and meet the needs of Iowans,” Reynolds said.