Colorado's Vaccination Records Fix Takes Three Weeks to Work

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
On Friday, July 2, Governor Jared Polis is expected to announce the fifth and final winner of Colorado Comeback Cash, a series of $1 million drawings for which every adult who's been vaccinated against COVID-19 is supposed to be eligible. (Kids are being targeted with $50,000 scholarships.) Trouble is, the website that is supposed to confirm that people are in the system — the Colorado Immunization Information System (CIIS) public portal — hasn't done so in many cases.

Including mine.

Three weeks ago, I recapped state staffers' failed efforts to solve my problem in a post headlined "Colorado's $1M Vaccination Drawings Fix Is a Clusterf*ck." I tried again last week, and after another extended hassle, the results were just as disappointing.

But as of today, June 30, I'm happy to report the situation has finally been satisfactorily resolved — and it only took three weeks!

Here's the breakdown:

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 vaccination 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 an initial search in the CIIS public portal failed to find my own name, I decided to try the hotline myself. 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. Unfortunately, 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. 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.

I followed these instructions immediately, but never received a reply to my email. Moreover, entering my name into the CIIS portal on June 9 triggered 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."

After jumping through these hoops several more times over the next couple of weeks and getting the same negative results, I again called the hotline on June 22. This time around, I was promptly connected to a staffer, and when she didn't immediately score a hit with my name and date of birth, she asked me to read off the dates and location of my two shots from my vaccination card. At that point, she was able to confirm that I was in the system.

When I asked why my name still wasn't registering in the public portal, she provided me with the same [email protected] email address I'd been given previously and encouraged me to ask. So I sent another email with this question and received two responses — a voicemail message and an email. The latter read: "If you are trying to use the Public Portal, the information you enter must match exactly with what is in CIIS. Please see here for a guidance document on how to use the Public Portal. I have updated your contact information with what you have provided, so you should be able to successfully receive an access code with either your email or phone number (if that number is a cell phone and capable of receiving a text). If you continue to have issues accessing your information in the portal, please take a screenshot of the information you are entering and send it to us so that we can troubleshoot. Also please note that Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge and Mozilla Firefox are the only supported web browsers."

The focus on blaming users for access issues seems particularly misguided, given the simplicity of the fields on the public portal: first name, last name, date of birth and gender. There's no option for adding a middle name or initial, or for including vaccination date information — and given that I've been spelling my name for well over half a century and haven't changed my date of birth or gender over that span, I'm pretty sure I made no errors in this respect. Yet several additional attempts after January 22 generated the same error message.

Until this morning, that is. Why it suddenly worked today is unclear, but at last I have confirmation that the State of Colorado knows I've been vaccinated.

So, Governor Polis, when you're filling out my $1 million check, be sure to spell my name correctly.
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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