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Speed Matters

In early 2021, Americans were clamoring to get a COVID-19 vaccination shot. Some drove hundreds of miles, others spent days searching online for an appointment, and still, others didn’t even know where to start. The White House COVID-19 Task Force needed to accelerate and reduce barriers to vaccination.

Turning the needs of the Task Force into reality soon involved, and depended on, Maximus.


In early March, 19 percent of adults in the U.S. had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination shot — far below the estimated 70 percent immunity rate needed to fight off the novel coronavirus.

  • President Biden committed to getting 70 percent of all adults at least one vaccine shot by July 4, 2021.
  • Vaccination efforts differed from state to state in terms of speed, capacity, and ease, creating unequal access to shots.
  • The Biden Administration needed a fully coordinated national initiative in the form of the “National COVID-19 Vaccination Assistance Hotline” to support vaccination access ready to go by the end of May, less than 60 days from the initiation of the effort. Ready to go in less than 60 days. That included standing up a technological system at a scale never developed before for a new program.

Throughout development and even into the early stages of implementation, Maximus worked with the federal government in the evolution of how the hotline would convey information and the means for doing so, including implementing innovative approaches like linkages to text options offering a range of information about locations with vaccines and call-back features.


Create a national system capable of handling 500,000 calls an hour to dramatically accelerate the country’s adult COVID-19 vaccination rate.


This was a race against time.

We were already running CDC-INFO, a national call-in system fielding general questions about COVID-19 and vaccine availability. But people wanted more than general information. They wanted to be connected to local vaccine services in real-time. We listened and built a system that could help them.

We recruited thousands of workers from across the country, mounted a massive virtual training operation, and developed the technology to facilitate live phone calls, interactive virtual response, and text inquiries — up to 500,000 interactions an hour.

Americans made it clear there were a number of reasons why they weren’t getting vaccinated. Some didn’t have a way to get to the vaccination sites; others worked two jobs and couldn’t find vaccine sites open when they were available. Others needed childcare coverage. These barriers were real and required real solutions.

How We Did It

Maximus has extensive experience developing systems and providing services to the American public. We have the experience, resources, skills, and people.

  • We used our extensive recruitment network to bring on 20,000 workers in less than 60 days.
  • We stood up a virtual training program capable of training 12,000 people in one week. Due to the disruption in the supply chain for computers, we developed a system that could bridge different platforms and programs.
  • Our relationship with partners in the field enabled us to subcontract with 11 different partners within one week*
  • Within 3.5 weeks, our technology team created a system with 3 different points of entry: a direct line to call agents, an interactive voice response system, and a texting program, later followed by a WhatsApp solution.
  • We curated data collected and updated daily by the Boston Medical Health Group. The data allowed us to direct people to 3 local vaccination site possibilities within their zip code, via both our short text code options (text your zip code to GETVAX\438829 to try it out) and in our IVR.
  • Conducted a tone analysis and solicited feedback from callers on a daily basis in order to continually improve the service and what we offered. This information led us to pivot from providing information on where to get vaccines to making vaccination appointments and connecting callers to ride services and childcare providers where needed.
  • We partnered with Kroger, Walmart, Publix and Rite Aid to offer a broader range of appointment times to accommodate workers.
  • We targeted outreach to underserved populations and launched a WhatsApp site to reach Spanish speakers. It generated 800 calls within the first two hours.


Workers hired in less than 60 days

Workers trained virtually in one week

180 languages
Information available

Partner organizations worked together

500,000 calls/hour
Handled by creating a national phone and text system

100s of 1000s
Calls and texts responded to since mid-May

Then, like the novel coronavirus itself, the game changed. Just as the National COVID-19 Vaccination Assistance Hotline swung into full operation, the demand for vaccinations went from a high of 3.5 million shots per day in mid-April to an average of 1.8 million shots per day at the end of May, dropping to less than 500,000 per day in July and August. Maximus pivoted from full response mode to problem-solving partner.

Working together, CDC and Maximus pivoted to eliminating technological and communication barriers. Tactics included providing customized recommendations for locations with vaccine availability with links to local resources providing support such as rides to vaccination sites; arranging childcare for the time it would take a parent to get vaccinated; working with partners to extend vaccination hours to accommodate those who couldn’t get time off work; using phone and trusted community messengers to reach people without smartphones or computer access; and using platforms, such as What’s App, to reach target populations.

Lessons learned

  • Listen to callers and make changes based on their feedback
  • Recognize that digital, automated systems, while efficient, don’t work for everyone. Offer a combination of digital and real people to answer calls
  • Use different strategies to reach different audiences
  • Partner with community messengers to overcome any trust gaps or hesitancy in getting the vaccine
  • Stay nimble

Learn more about how we’ve been helping government respond swiftly and effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic.