The military was already developing a digital vaccination tracking system before the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Defense Department’s relatively new electronic health record system—Military Health System, or MHS, GENESIS—is being used to track vaccinations against COVID-19, building a database of inoculations and ensuring the process is fast and safe for servicemembers.
“Throughout 2020, like most of Americans, the entire Military Health System has faced very unique challenges,” Brig. Gen. Ned Appenzeller, assistant director for combat support at the Defense Health Agency, told reporters in November as the launch schedule resumed. “However, even with those challenges, I think we’re still on track to fully deploy Genesis by the end of ’23.”
The system has been deployed to more than 20 medical facilities as of March and is now being used to track vaccinations throughout the military.
In total, DOD has administered some 1.3 million doses of the vaccine at 335 locations as of early March. The release notes an additional “81,256 vaccinations at retail pharmacies were administered to MHS beneficiaries.”
The vaccine database, MassVax, consolidates vaccination records from DOD and U.S. Coast Guard medical facilities to “more accurately track and ensure that the DOD's patient population has received COVID-19 vaccinations, considered essential to both a ready medical force and medically ready force,” according to a release from MHS.
"MassVax is designed to help us quickly record who gave what vaccine, as well as when and where it was given," Air Force Col. Thomas Cantilina, DHS chief health informatics officer, said in the release. "Additionally, and more importantly, MHS GENESIS and its MassVax capability have enhanced safety and efficiency at our COVID-19 vaccine sites, through its ability to provide clinicians with patient data related to drug and allergy interactions—prior to vaccines being administered."
Digitizing the vaccination process not only allows DOD to track dosing, but also speeds up the process. Rather than forcing servicemembers to fill out paper forms ahead of getting the shot, patients scan their ID cards and digital forms are auto-populated, including medical history and allergies, as Cantilina noted.
While the system is being used for the COVID-19 vaccination process, MassVax was already in development before the pandemic, to be used for general vaccinations for troops about to be deployed.
“In fact, our teams were particularly interested in using MassVax to facilitate the rapid administration of vaccines to troops preparing to deploy, as well as quickly administering vaccines to new recruits preparing for boot camp," Cantilina said.
During the call with reporters in November, Appenzeller said DHA was already preparing for the vaccine rollout and noted MHS GENESIS was going to be an integral part.
“We’re already putting into place, both for GENESIS and our legacy systems, how we will support vaccines once they eventually become available,” he said. “Once vaccines become available, the actual administration and tracking of the vaccines with our patients is going to be predetermined in the system. … It’s already being worked, the systems are being put in place.”