Near the end of last year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis revealed a plan to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine statewide using partnerships between the state, the federal government, hospitals— and, apparently, Eventbrite.
Yes, a platform best known for selling and distributing concert, party, and meetup tickets is now being used to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to some of the most vulnerable people in society. It is not going particularly well. People who want to get a vaccine are sitting on Eventbrite’s pages waiting for vaccine slots to become available, refreshing the page, and trying to get a spot as though it were a Playstation 5 or a hot concert ticket.
Through Eventbrite, Florida’s state health department has partnered with health departments in the counties of Collier, Brevard, Manatee, Monroe, Volusia, Pasco, Sarasota, and Seminole to organize COVID-19 testing as well as priority vaccination of individuals 65 years or older. Healthcare providers such as Baycare, one of the largest healthcare systems in the state, have also used Eventbrite to organize vaccination programs and are now offering drive-thru programs in the state.
Take Brevard County, whose Department of Health set up its Eventbrite registration in late December after its phone line was quickly overwhelmed. All vaccine appointment slots were quickly filled up, leading the county to double its slots from 3 hours (8 to 11 AM) to 6 hours. The county also extended its appointment slots to January 29th, but to date all are spoken for.
There are a few concerns with using this sort of method. One is whether households can actually access the internet and register for vaccination. According to U.S. census data, anywhere from 10-20 percent of households in these counties have no internet or broadband access—a significant amount of that falls on poor, Black, or brown households, all of which are already disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Similar to a concert ticket, people who can quickly navigate Eventbrite’s website before spots sell out are also in a better position to get the vaccine. While vaccination right now is limited to priority groups—specifically people 65 years old or above—the most vulnerable among them are also the least likely to be able to register through this method.
Another concern involves the possibility of scalping, which has long been a problem for ticketed events but may not be properly addressed. There are currently Eventbrite “spinner” bots for sale on a popular ticket bot website, though there’s not any evidence at the moment that they are being used in Florida.
“Eventbrite is a pretty easy to bot site, there are public bots all over Github that are well maintained and Eventbrite themselves are aware that they are not well protected against bots (although they call these people auto-attendees),” a cybersecurity source who has tracked scalping bots told Motherboard. “In the case of the vaccine I can only see two ways of this going as well: vaccine spots being resold at markup, or vaccines being held in order to stop people from getting them as the covid vaccine is highly politicized.” Motherboard granted the source anonymity as they were not permitted by their employer to speak publicly on the issue.
Already, fake Eventbrite sites have popped up that have scammed seniors, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
To secure a vaccination, you'll need to bring your Eventbrite registration ticket, a valid form of identification, and a completed form from the Department of Health titled "COVID-19 Vaccine Screening and Consent Form." All of that seems insufficient to stop someone from reserving multiple slots for future appointments and ensuring those without internet access never get the chance (unless it’s being done on their behalf), or turning around and selling those slots.
This would be a worst-case scenario, but it shows the obvious pitfalls of using such a platform for something so critical, especially when people are willing to go to great (and unethical) lengths to ensure their health in a pandemic.
Florida's Department of Health and Eventbrite did not immediately respond to Motherboard's request for comment. When reached for comment, a spokesperson from Gov. DeSantis’ office directed Motherboard to their email but did not answer any questions about why Eventbrite was being used or whether steps were being taken to prevent scalping of appointment slots.
"The Governor will be holding a press conference today at Orlando Health in Seminole County at 12:00PM," Press Secretary Cody McCloud told Motherboard in an email. "I highly recommend you tune in! It will be streamed on The Florida Channel website."
Vaccine rollout problems aren’t unique to Florida—the entire country has been doing a pretty poor job of getting shots into arms in a timely fashion. And Eventbrite obviously isn’t the only problem in Florida. There have also been reports of extremely long lines and insufficient supply. In Broward County, a bespoke digital vaccine slot distribution campaign website has been mobbed by users.
Joseph Cox contributed additional reporting.