Coronavirus

Colorado's $1M Vaccination Drawings Fix Is a Clusterf*ck

The main office for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is located at 4300 Cherry Creek South Drive.
The main office for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is located at 4300 Cherry Creek South Drive. Google Maps
Colorado Comeback Cash, a series of five $1 million drawings intended to inspire state residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19, isn't paying off. Despite the ballyhoo over the first winner, Mead health-care worker Sally Sliger, announced on June 4, the pace of immunizations in Colorado has dropped drastically. And ongoing issues with the Colorado Immunization Information System (CIIS) public portal, set up by the state to let individuals confirm that their name is in the pool for the jackpot, haven't helped.

On June 8, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced that it had set up a Colorado Cash Hotline number, 1-877-CO VAX CO (1-877-268-2926), to help reassure individuals whose vaccinatoin records don't appear to be in the CIIS system that all is good. In the words of CDPHE communications director Jessica Bralish, "If someone's data isn't popping up in the new portal, that doesn't mean it's not there."

Since a search in the CIIS public portal failed to find my own name, I decided to try the hotline for myself — and soon found myself in the midst of a clusterfuck.

After dialing the number and briefly triggering a recording that let me know the call would be answered in the order it was received, a man came on the line and asked for my first and last name — but after I provided it, the line went dead. So I called back, and after hearing the same message again, I reached a different operator — a woman who was clearly working while caring for a young child, who occasionally could be heard during the conversation that followed.

"Occasionally" is the operative word, since the connection was terrible. The audio kept cutting in and out, and I had to ask the operator several times to repeat what she'd just said to me.

Despite these snafus, the operator, who was extremely polite throughout, was able to search for the name "Michael Roberts" in conjunction with my date of birth, and she didn't score a hit, either. She was also unsuccessful using my middle name, Lee, and my middle initial, L, with the last name Roberts and the first names "Michael" and "Mike."

At that point, the operator provided me with another number at the CDPHE and said she was sure the staffers there would be able to sort out the issue. I wasn't the only person facing such problems, she added; she'd talked to multiple people already that day in the same situation.

I then called the second number, and the man on the line said he was unable to help — but he could connect me with someone who could. Trouble is, his attempt to transfer the call rang back to my own line, and a few seconds later, I was hearing my own voicemail message. So I hung up and called the number again and reached the same guy, who attempted to transfer the call again — and once more, it rang on my own phone.

This time, I answered and was soon speaking with the same man. He apologized for the runaround and then read off the number to which he was trying to transfer me — which turned out to be the same hotline at which the operator had instructed me to phone him.

Fortunately, the CDPHE employee had one more option for me. He gave me an email address for the CIIS — [email protected] — and told me to send a photo of my vaccination card along with a one-word subject: "Encrypt." By doing so, he said, the CIIS crew would be able to enter all of my information into the system.

Did it work? Not so far. I haven't received a response to the email, and when I went to the portal this morning and entered my information, I got this message: "We were unable to find a record matching the search criteria supplied. An exact match is required for all of the data provided, so please make sure the data you entered is typed correctly and is a likely match for the data in our system. For example, try using the patient's legal name."

The auto-reply added: "If you have questions about the CIIS Public Portal, call 1-877-CO VAX CO (1-877-268-2926). Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Answers available in multiple languages."

Whether those answers are good is another question. But when the next Colorado Comeback Cash winner is revealed on Friday, June 11, I don't expect to hear my name.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts