The startup Airkit says local officials are 'ill-prepared' to distribute coronavirus vaccines, and that its software could make the process 10 times faster

  • State and local health officials across the United States are starting to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to frontline workers and high-risk groups. 
  • But vaccine distribution comes with big challenges in keeping track of recipients and coordinating rollout, such as deciding when people get the vaccine and shepherding them through the process.
  • Airkit provides a platform that allows companies to build more personal and digital customer engagement experiences without needing to code.
  • The company's CEO, Stephen Ehikian, told Business Insider in an interview that Airkit's low-code product could make the vaccine distribution process five to 10 times faster than traditional rollouts.
  • "I don't think states and local governments truly appreciated the logistical challenges of distribution," he said in an interview with Business Insider. 
  • Health officials in California and other states have already approached Airkit for help in distributing COVID-19 vaccines, Ehikian said. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

As state and local health officials across the country start distributing COVID-19 vaccines, Airkit CEO Stephen Ehikian says there's one looming challenge: developing the necessary software to coordinate the massive rollout.

He says his startup, which came out of stealth mode in October, can help.

Airkit, cofounded by Ehikian and its CTO Adam Evans, runs a low-code platform that allows companies to build hyper-personalized, online engagement experiences without the need for sophisticated engineering teams. 

The company's goal was initially to help more traditional companies with outdated customer engagement strategies better adapt to a more digital world. One of its clients, for example, is a Fortune 500 insurance company that wants to provide a digital, self-service enrollment process for its life insurance product.

Now, Ehikian wants to help with a far bigger task: developing a platform for state and local governments that could enroll millions of its citizens into a vaccine distribution program and guide them through a complex vaccination process that requires two separate shots. 

Multiple local and state officials in California, where the company is based, have already inquired about how Airkit could help achieve this task, Ehikian said. And he's received inbound from other state officials, private healthcare providers, and pharmacies as well, though nothing is yet finalized. 

"It's actually kind of insane how ill-prepared they are for this," Ehikian told Business Insider. "I don't think states and local governments truly appreciated the logistical challenges of distribution."

The great benefit of Airkit's product, he added, is a premade application builder that can help governments and pharmacies quickly create digital services for citizens to use during the vaccination process, avoiding the cumbersome process of coding up their own applications from scratch. Airkit's technology, Ehikian says, could potentially allow citizens to enroll for and schedule their vaccinations all over text or email. 

Ehikian is so confident in his company, which has raised $28 million from prominent backers like Accel and Salesforce, that he says it can make the distribution process up to ten times faster than if the process were carried out without its technology. 

"Every minute of every day that goes by, lives are at risk. So the time to market is the most important thing," he said. 

A HIPAA compliant service

One big advantage Airkit has in the coronavirus fight is that the company is compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). That means it has the necessary security safeguards and privacy protections that authorize it to deal with sensitive patient health information.

Ehikian says he initially built Airkit to be HIPAA compliant because he wanted to work with healthcare providers, helping them digitize their paper forms and enrollment processes while creating more personalized, digital-first experiences for patients. 

Now, HIPAA compliance means his company can potentially work directly with pharmacies, culling their patient data to identify those in need of a vaccine before contacting them via a phone call or text, Ehikian said.

If Airkit were authorized to do so, it could then guide those patients through the vaccination process, which requires that people get two separate doses over a period of time. The company, he said, would focus specifically on tracking those who don't show up for the second required shot, a phenomenon that's already sowing worry amongst health experts. 

The company would also collect and monitor patient data throughout the whole process, flagging those who might have adverse reactions to the vaccine, Ehikian said.

Ehikian says Airkit is weeks away from finalizing its role in California's vaccination efforts, as well as with certain private healthcare providers and pharmacies, adding that the company is also working with major consulting firms to develop other COVID-related proposals. 

He acknowledges that the task of building a secure platform for coordinating the vaccine's distribution that complies with the desires of local and state governments will undoubtedly be challenging. But staying out of the fray would only make things worse, he says. 

"If technology is not involved in this process, the alternative is going to be staffing huge contact centers with people to literally man the phones, to be calling individuals, to try and schedule this," Ehikian said.  

"It's going to be a highly manual and expensive process to do. And as you can imagine with robocalling, no one's picking up their phones right now from an 800 number," he said. 

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