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 Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Local health officials are turning to online services like Eventbrite to improvise distribution schemes for the COVID-19 vaccine in the absence of federal support or a national plan.

Why it matters: Millions of lives, along with the country's economic recovery, depend on a speedy and successful rollout of the vaccine. But as people hunt for scarce information about vaccine availability and delivery processes, the lack of coordinated communication risks opening an information vacuum — into which misinformation could easily pour.

Driving the news: In Florida, a number of counties are using events platform Eventbrite, a platform known for selling concert tickets and coordinating happy hours, to schedule COVID-19 vaccine appointments.

Be smart: Local governments, already stretched by the crisis and reeling from Congress's delays passing the latest COVID-19 relief bill, often lack the resources necessary to manage vaccine communication and coordination.

  • Many have looked for help from both online providers and pharmacies, which tend to have better access to consumer data and are able to deploy information in a quick, personalized manner.
  • Once people have gotten the first dose of Pfizer's two-dose vaccine, for example, pharmacies will be key players in helping make sure they take the second dose three weeks later.
  • "It is kind of falling on pharmacies," says Chris Haynes, a political science professor at the University of New Haven. "There hasn't been an app developed for federal or state governments to make sure the vaccine rollout was tracked. All of this stuff should've been planned months ago."

The big picture: Historically, the federal government has established systems to help local governments deploy emergency information, like tornado and hurricane warnings that are broadcast on local television, as well as localized text alerts.

  • But the government hasn't set up emergency communication systems to convey localized information about the vaccine, forcing citizens to turn to less reliable sources of information online.
  • "We're going to have to think through systems that will reach people when they need information that's highly specific — and in this case, time sensitive," says Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. "We'll need to institutionalize that structure and keep track of it."
  • "The fact that we don't already have it is a real indictment," she told Axios. "We should've thought this through before."

What to watch: A lack of coordinated messaging around the vaccine rollout has left millions of people to search for answers online and via social media, opening space for confusion and misinformation.

  • Experts worry that big tech platforms, already reeling from election misinformation problems, are not equipped to help vet and verify vaccine rollout information.

Of note: Almost all of the experts Axios spoke to said that the best way to tackle this problem would be through a massive, federal government-backed awareness campaign educating consumers about the importance of getting a vaccine and directing them to some sort of a federal directory with links to verified local resources.

  • Since the U.S. has no centralized database with citizens' addresses and health records, that's likely the fastest thing the federal government can do to support local governments with the rollout at this point.

Our thought bubble: Developing a vaccine was a hard problem, but distributing it shouldn't have been in the same league, and the U.S. had months to prepare a plan.

What's next: The incoming Biden administration is promising a "whole of government response" after Jan. 20, per the Washington Post.

Go deeper

Jan 24, 2021 - Health

Deborah Birx went "on the road" for local COVID efforts to avoid White House censorship

Deborah Birx, who served as White House coronavirus response coordinator under former President Trump, described on Sunday disarray, a lack of communication and the spread of misinformation inside Trump's White House as it attempted to handle the Covid-19 crisis.

Driving the news: Birx told CBS' "Face the Nation" that she was censored by the Trump administration, and blocked from appearing on national news media, forcing her to go "out on the road" to work with state and local officials on their pandemic response.

Jan 24, 2021 - Health

Cities launch efforts to vaccinate the homeless

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Cities around the world are ramping up efforts to vaccinate homeless people as part of an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, following pressure from local activists.

Why it matters: Many homeless people have underlying conditions that put them at higher risk for severe illness if they contract the disease, and often lack access to health care. People without homes are "chronically neglected around the world and acutely vulnerable to the coronavirus," writes the Washington Post.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
44 mins ago - Economy & Business

Scoop: Red Sox strike out on deal to go public

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The parent company of the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool F.C. has ended talks to sell a minority ownership stake to RedBall Acquisition, a SPAC formed by longtime baseball executive Billy Beane and investor Gerry Cardinale, Axios has learned from multiple sources. An alternative investment, structured more like private equity, remains possible.

Why it matters: Red Sox fans won't be able to buy stock in the team any time soon.