Maine Health Senior Pharmacy Director Andrea Lai gives Alice Goshorn, 78, of South Portland a COVID-19 vaccination shot inside the former Scarborough Downs horse racing track on Wednesday Feb. 3, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Maine is creating a temporary scheduling system for emergency personnel involved in the coronavirus vaccine effort in what could be an initial step toward a more comprehensive system for members of the general public.

The state announced plans for a wide online registration system in late January that would allow Mainers to sign up in one place for appointments across the state, but it has not materialized yet. It publishes a list of providers able to give vaccines to Mainers 70 and older. Methods of registration vary by provider from a text or phone hotline or an online registration system.

In the meantime, first responders are getting their own temporary system. The Maine Department of Public Safety authorized a $24,000 no-bid contract for the BlockItNow scheduling system earlier this month. The agreement says the system will be used for six months as Maine negotiates with other platforms — Skedulo and PrepMod — to bring a wider system online.

Nirav Shah, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Tuesday that the state could be pursuing other temporary platforms because BlockItNow has been found “wanting.” He said a wider scheduling system could also be online quicker than the contract indicated, but declined comment on any agreement with PrepMod or Skedulo, saying no contracts have been finalized. Both platforms have been used in other states.

Lack of supply has been the major barrier for people eligible for vaccination in the U.S. and Maine, the latter of which is currently inoculating a wide group of people including 70 and older, those with conditions making them susceptible to the virus and workers in health care and long-term care settings. Some hospitals offer waiting lists for people unable to schedule appointments. Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies recently began offering vaccines here.

Users of the Vaccine Administration Management System, which has been rolled out by the federal government in states including New Hampshire and Virginia, have reported being unable to find follow-up appointment times through the application. At least 10 states are using the system, the MIT Technology Review reported.

Shah has said he wants to create a system that allows a person to get notifications for vaccine eligibility and be able to schedule an appointment with providers that connect to it. He has said the state should not rush into creating a system to avoid the flaws of the federal module.

“We’d rather do it right than do it fast and wrong,” he said last Tuesday.

PrepMod is an online clinic management and appointment scheduling system developed in Maryland. It is being used by that state and Washington to manage mass vaccination sites. It also allows users to self-report if they have been exposed to the virus and offers contact tracing and cluster identification, according to its website. Skedulo appears to offer similar services on a mobile platform. It is being used in California and the Canadian province of Ontario.

In late January, Shah said the state is focusing on building a pre-registration system before a registration system. He said one vendor would focus on creating the technology for the system and the other would focus on phone-based customer support. On Tuesday, he said the state also has to work out how to connect its system with providers’ systems.