I always knew my college roommate Teri was destined for great things.
While I idly scanned ids at the recreation center to earn college spending money, Teri kept the books for Gimbels, a large department store in Milwaukee. I always marvelled that such a sophisticated store had a 21-year old bookkeeper. She earned an engineering degree from Marquette University, and found a niche writing international healthcare standards.
Today, Teri works as an adjunct engineering professor at Marquette, the Medical College of Wisconsin and Johns Hopkins. A little project she, fellow engineering professor Dana Cook and their team of students are building could help pave the way for a global recovery from COVID-19.
Their all-volunteer team designed software to facilitate vaccine distribution and are rolling out MassVaxx, their open-source patient registration and vaccination management system, now. While the team is initially deploying the program in southeastern Wisconsin, MassVaxx envisions a far more widespread application.
“None of us are through with this (pandemic) until all of us are through with this, right?” Teri said when I Zoomed with her last night. “I still think that one of the big markets for this is developing countries because we’re free. Those countries can’t afford Microsoft. Everything with our program is free, open source and complies with international standards. I would love to see, once the U.S. gets underway, that we refocus on developing countries.”
The project started back in April when the Southeast Wisconsin Incident Management Team approached Cook and asked her for help.
“They said, “We believe a vaccine will be found and when it is found we’re going to have to push it out at high speed and there is no software available for that,'” Teri said. “She approached me because of my background in healthcare standards and, like a sucker, I said ‘sure!'”
The two assembled a team of students and began to design each of the three apps the program requires, and then took their project to the Society of Imaging and Informatics in Medicine hackathon, a global virtual event. Their patient registration app won third place, the first time an all-female team had won a prize.
“It was funny because it hadn’t even dawned on me that we were an all-female team until someone said that,” Teri said. “I really had not even noticed, but I guess that’s pretty cool.”
“So we walked out of there saying this definitely could be done and then the students came back to us and said, ‘That was nice. That was fun. Now we want to make it real,'” she said. “We said, ‘You have no idea how much work it is going to be.’ and they said, ‘We don’t care. We just want to solve the COVID problem.’ They are looking at it from a mental health point of view. This has really devastated college campuses. So the students were the ones who really pushed us.”
They created a 501c3 and dug in, working long hours and recruiting similarly motivated volunteers to help as the project picked up steam. They fine tuned the patient registration app, scheduling app and point of dispensing app and, working with the Village of Greendale Public Health Department, found their first recipient.
As the vaccines become more readily available, a high-speed vaccination process will be critical to ensure wide and equitable distribution and to make sure none of that precious vaccine goes to waste.
MassVaxx offers a seamless distribution process to people looking to receive a vaccine. They will receive a unique link, submit a completed form and from then on they just scan a QR code as they make their way through the touchless process.
The vaccinators and distributors access a high-speed process that moves people through as quickly as possible and reduces the risk of both wasted vaccine and people “jumping the line” through shared links.
How great is it that free software is available to make that all happen!