Around the world government and medical organizations are struggling with one of the most difficult logistics challenges in history: equitably and efficiently distributing the COVID-19 vaccine. There are challenges around communicating who is eligible to be vaccinated, registering those who are eligible for appointments, ensuring they show up for their appointments, transporting the vaccine under the required handling conditions, ensuring that there are trained personnel to administer the vaccine, and then doing it all over again as most of the vaccines require two doses.
Cloudflare can't help with most of that problem, but there is one key part that we realized we could help facilitate: ensuring that registration websites don't crash under load when they first begin scheduling vaccine appointments. Project Fair Shot provides Cloudflare's new Waiting Room service for free for any government, municipality, hospital, pharmacy, or other organization responsible for distributing COVID-19 vaccines. It is open to eligible organizations around the world and will remain free until at least July 1, 2021 or longer if there is still more demand for appointments for the vaccine than there is supply.
Crashing Registration Websites
The problem of vaccine scheduling registration websites crashing under load isn't theoretical: it is happening over and over as organizations attempt to schedule the administration of the vaccine. This hit home at Cloudflare last weekend. The wife of one of our senior team members was trying to register her parents to receive the vaccine. They met all the criteria and the municipality where they lived was scheduled to open appointments at noon.
When the time came for the site to open, it immediately crashed. The cause wasn't hackers or malicious activity. It was merely that so many people were trying to access the site at once. "Why doesn't Cloudflare build a service that organizes a queue into an orderly fashion so these sites don't get overwhelmed?" she asked her husband.
A Virtual Waiting Room
Turns out, we were already working on such a feature, but not for this use case. The problem of fairly distributing something where there is more demand than supply comes up with several of our clients. Whether selling tickets to a hot concert, the latest new sneaker, or access to popular national park hikes it is a difficult challenge to ensure that everyone eligible has a fair chance.
The solution is to open registration to acquire the scarce item ahead of the actual sale. Anyone who visits the site ahead of time can be put into a queue. The moment before the sale opens, the order of the queue can be randomly (and fairly) shuffled. People can then be let in in order of their new, random position in the queue — allowing only so many at any time as the backend of the site can handle.
At Cloudflare, we were building this functionality for our customers as a feature called Waiting Room. (You can learn more about the technical details of Waiting Room in this post by Brian Batraski who helped build it.) The technology is powerful because it can be used in front of any existing web registration site without needing any code changes or hardware installation. Simply deploy Cloudflare through a simple DNS change and then configure Waiting Room to ensure any transactional site, no matter how meagerly resourced, can keep up with demand.
Recognizing a Critical Need; Moving Up the Launch
We planned to release it in February. Then, when we saw vaccine sites crashing under load and frustration of people eligible for the vaccine building, we realized we needed to move the launch up and offer the service for free to organizations struggling to fairly distribute the vaccine. With that, Project Fair Shot was born.
Government, municipal, hospital, pharmacy, clinic, and any other organizations charged with scheduling appointments to distribute the vaccine can apply to participate in Project Fair Shot by visiting: projectfairshot.org
Giving Front Line Organizations the Technical Resources They Need
The service will be free for qualified organizations at least until July 1, 2021 or longer if there is still more demand for appointments for the vaccine than there is supply. We are not experts in medical cold storage and I get squeamish at the sight of needles, so we can't help with many of the logistical challenges of distributing the vaccine. But, seeing how we could support this aspect, our team knew we needed to do all we could to help.
The superheroes of this crisis are the medical professionals who are taking care of the sick and the scientists who so quickly invented these miraculous vaccines. We're proud of the supporting role Cloudflare has played helping ensure the Internet has continued to function well when the world needed it most. Project Fair Shot is one more way we are living up to our mission of helping build a better Internet.