One in three people who try to use the state’s DelVAX system to find proof of COVID-19 vaccination either can’t find any records or find records are incomplete.
There are enough people who discover missing shots in the system the First State uses to track immunizations that Delaware may not be reporting the extent of those fully vaccinated, said James Talbott, director of the Delaware Health Immunization Program.
“I think you could say that we’re underreporting a bit, but I don’t think it’s that much, where it’s going to make a big difference,” Talbott said.
DelVAX, or the Delaware Immunization Information System and Registry, tracks all state immunizations, not just COVID-19. But it’s repeatedly cited in state press releases describing the numbers of those vaccinated.
How many people are actually vaccinated is one of the issues now perplexing Tom Lagana, an electrical engineer living in North Wilmington, since he discovered shots were missing from both his and his wife’s cards.
They had wanted to get in line to receive a third booster shot when Lagana realized he couldn’t find his card. His wife suggested he try the DelVAX system, which the state has been publicizing as a way to get a copy of a lost vaccine card.
At first, Lagana couldn’t find his card in the system, so — as requested online — he sent an email to DelVAX explaining the problem and telling them when he and his wife were vaccinated. Somebody got back to him in a couple of hours and asked him to send a copy of the original vaccine card, which listed the shots for both him and his wife on the same page before he got his own card. Within two hours, he got an email back saying it had been fixed. He checked, and it had.
Lagana started calling family and friends to warn them to check. All six of the people he called either couldn’t find their cards or the cards were incorrect.
Then Lagana posted on Next Door, a neighborhood social media platform, about what happened. About half of those who responded said their information was incorrect, too.
As the Next Door conversation veered into various political agendas, nurses got involved in the conversation and said people didn’t need the information in the system and that most facilities giving shots only go by the vaccine card.
“Well, what if you’ve lost your card,” Lagana asked.
Talbott said there are many reasons that information may not be found or easily found in the DelVAX system. Sometimes, the information just wasn’t sent to the system. Sometimes people got a first or second shot out of state, and systems there don’t talk to DelVAX.
People being vaccinated may use their nicknames instead of the name on a driver’s license, making it hard to match, he said. A name could be misspelled by the person recording the information. (In the beginning of mass vaccinations, that was often a volunteer).
The DelVAX system requires an email or telephone number that can be used to send a code so someone can type it into a verification form before being allowed to access their own records. Many people don’t have an email or a phone listed, which means they can’t get to their records because they can’t get the access code.
When numbers are listed, it sometimes is a home phone, which can’t be used to send the code via text, he said.
The best practice, Talbott said, is to use a cell phone number because that allows the state to text information.
The DelVAX user interface instructs anyone whose vaccination record isn’t there or isn’t complete to first reach out to whatever agency administered the shots and ask them to resend the information.
If it’s not possible to contact the vendor, the program asks people to call 800-282-8672 or email [email protected].
Most of the time, the state has been able to quickly help people, like with Lagana. That’s often because the records are found in another way, perhaps allowing a nickname to be matched with other records, or by simply adding the information from vaccine cards into the system.
Sometimes, the program will ask a user to fill out a form that has email and telephone numbers on it, so the system can link the information and accounts. The system provides a link to a PDF that needs to be filled out and sent back to the system, Talbott said.
The state tried to make the request for the PDF fill up the screen, Talbott said.
“I think a lot of people are going to run into this,” he said. “If you look at our success rate on first-time people who are accessing the portal, we’re at about 30%. So about one out of every three are a successful match first time out.
“We were expecting that there will be a number of folks who wouldn’t have any of that information in our system. And maybe a lot of people don’t know that we’re actually capturing all this information.”
Once into the system, many people have been surprised to find that the state has tracked immunizations for years, sometimes back to birth.
“It’s what we call a cradle to grave system, so as soon as someone’s born, a record is created,” said Talbott.
Those who are filling out requests to get vaccination records for their children are automatically asked to fill out a PDF that will give them access to the records, Talbott said.
He suggests the people who can’t find their records at first blush try not to get upset. They should submit a data form to the state, which will allow the DelVAX workers to check the system for their records.
Right now, he said, those workers are able to handle most record checks the same day they are submitted. He handles some himself.
“We’ve had a really quick turnaround,” he said.
Lagana said the situation with his friends and family has made him more leery of information provided about COVID-19.
“You know, I’m not trying to do any blame,” he said. “I’m thinking, well, now I don’t believe any of that data, because I don’t know where they’re getting it from. If this is messed up, then it’s going to be messed up for more than just six or seven of us.
“And, yeah, I’m just thinking that there could be a lot more people vaccinated that we don’t know about.”
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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