The Covid vaccine rollout has been mired in chaos. A health-tech founder wants to make it easier. (Credit: CDC/Unsplash)
The Covid vaccine rollout has been mired in chaos. A health-tech founder wants to make it easier. (Credit: CDC/Unsplash)

Vaccine doses wasted or thrown out. People in lower priority groups skipping the line, getting shots before those who are elderly or immunocompromised. And 20 million vaccine doses, paid for by the Trump administration, simply unaccounted for.

It’s no secret that the Covid vaccine roll-out has been a mess, with no universal method to register for or administer the shots, and insufficient doses to go around as the world races against the clock — and more contagious variants of the virus.

Joan Melendez has developed a vaccine tracking app. (Credit: Xcelerate UDI)
Joan Melendez has developed a vaccine tracking app. (Credit: Xcelerate UDI)

Enter Joan Melendez, who wants to bring a measure of calm and dignity to the chaos. Her year-old company, Xcelrate UDI, tracks barcode data on implantable medical devices. Its barcode scanning app, used by 450 healthcare facilities across the country, is able to determine if a device is recalled, counterfeit or expired. Melendez then deals with the manufacturing companies on behalf of the hospitals.

[Related: This All-Female Team Delivered Vaccines to the Furthest Corners of Alaska]

Now, the Washington State resident is moving quickly to introduce a new app, UDIVitals, to track vaccine doses — from when they’re shipped to how long a dose has spent in the freezer, a crucial piece of information about its viability.

“We don’t want to throw vaccines out, we want to be able to use them,” said Melendez, a certified minority and women-owned business owner who grew up in New York and California before settling in Seattle 25 years ago. 

“You have two hours when you take the vaccine out of the vial and put it into the syringe after it’s thawed,” she added. “We’re marking those syringes with a scannable barcode so we know exactly when that syringe was pulled and when it’s going to expire.”

The founder, who travels frequently to demo her new product and has degrees in medical assisting and management information systems from San Jose State University, said she decided to get involved when the news emerged that Pfizer and Moderna would seek emergency use authorization for their vaccines at the end of 2020.

“We knew this was going to be a nightmare,” she said of the roll-out. “You have to be trained in these vaccines — this is not your regular vaccine, this is new with mRNA.” (mRNA is the genetic material used in newer vaccines and other treatments, according to this Time article.)

Medical facilities using the app can keep track of how many doses are coming in, while patients will soon be able to access a separate dashboard called MyVacTrax to schedule and register for a vaccine (when appointments actually become available). Melendez compiles difficult-to-find data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in one place, allowing patients to get information on pre-existing conditions or medications that might trigger adverse reactions to the vaccine. 

[Related: This Female Scientist Is at the Helm of Finding a Vaccine for Coronavirus] 

The UDIVitals app, which can be accessed from a computer or phone — and has to be installed by one of Melendez’s team of seven employees — is currently being launched in one Seattle-area hospital, and she is also in talks with a local clinic.

But Melendez, who was independently consulting prior to starting her company, is dreaming bigger.

“I am hoping that the Biden administration will look at our application and go, ‘That’s what we need,’” she said. “For both provider and patient, it’s a very simple interface for that person to be able to use the app.”

And in the meantime, Melendez, who is in one of the higher-priority groups, hopes she can make an appointment for her own shot soon when more become available.

“Let’s get this vaccine rolled out,” she said.

[Related: 9 Women in STEM Who Just Might Save Us All]

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misnamed the app. It is called UDIVitals. MyVacTrax is a patient portal still in development. The name of the company was also mispelled. It is Xcelrate UDI, not Xcelerate UDI.