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I jumped the queue to get an expiring vaccine. Did I do the right thing?



Around 10 p.m. last Thursday, I received a call from a friend. The two of us primarily text, so a call was out of the ordinary. I picked up immediately, assuming it was an emergency. 

She told me that a friend of a friend —a health-care worker who was distributing covid-19 vaccines that evening— was looking for people who wanted one. A freezer containing 1,600 doses of the Moderna vaccine had just gone down. The Moderna vaccine is based on new mRNA vaccine technology, which has unique refrigeration requirements: it must be stored at -25°C and -15°C (-13°F and 5°F). Once it starts thawing, it has to get into people’s arms within a matter of hours. Once its short shelf life of 12 hours is over, it has to be tossed.

Photograph of Wudan Yan holding her vaccination record card
Wudan holding her vaccination record card

I live in Seattle where the vaccine rollout, like in the rest of the U.S., has been chaotic. Health-care workers have had to contend with ever-changing guidelines on who to vaccinate and the availability of doses.

As of last week, the state was in the midst of vaccinating high-risk healthcare workers, first responders, and residents and staff of community-based, communal living settings, and had recently expanded to vaccinating everyone age 65 and older, or those over 50 living in multigenerational households. 

Although the hospital staff was trying to call those who had priority, most of them were elderly would probably be asleep by then, so they were also creating a backup list. She asked me point blank: “Do you want your number to be added to the list?”

As a journalist who has been covering this pandemic for nearly a year, I knew how important it would be to get the covid-19 vaccine. My husband and I are in our 30s with no underlying health conditions, which puts us squarely at the back of the line. (Some states are pushing to include media workers in a priority group, but not Washington.) 

I quickly went through the ethical gymnastics in my head. Under ordinary circumstances, would I be taking away someone else’s dose? Yes – those 1,600 doses were meant for someone else.

Do I have a moral obligation to protect others in my community by being one more person who was immunized? Absolutely – and others argue that it’s better for someone to be vaccinated out of phase than for doses to go to waste. If you decline, there’s no guarantee it will be given to someone of higher priority than you. Worse, it might be thrown out if it doesn’t get into someone in time. And in this particular moment, all those doses were on the line and had the potential to go to waste. I told my friend to put me and my husband down on the waitlist. 

A few minutes later, my friend updated me by text: “My friend said we should just go and there may be a wait but we’ll get it. UW Medical Center – Northwest.” I just got out of the shower and haphazardly tossed on clothes. My husband, minutes away from going to bed, also rallied. 

The northwest campus of the University of Washington Medical Center is a short drive from my house. I was there nearly a year ago, covering the novelty of drive-through test sites for the New York Times. I was struck by how many cars were headed for the vaccine clinic. A line of people had already extended outside the hospital. 

A few minutes before we were about to enter the building, a medical worker came out with the tickets. At the deli counter, these tickets would have gotten me a sandwich. Here, the fading yellow ticket was a golden ticket—one that would get me one of the coveted vaccine doses. 

Those of us with a ticket walked through the hospital’s winding corridors already lined with people who had arrived before us. I passed people who looked my age, some college students, and few individuals who looked like they could have belonged in the priority groups. I prayed that this late-night scramble in a poorly ventilated hospital hallway wouldn’t become a superspreader event. 

Around 11:26, a nurse told us they had started vaccinations. The line finally started moving fitfully, but steadily. At 1 a.m. on January 29, I received my first dose of the Moderna covid-19 vaccine. We waited for 15 minutes to monitor ourselves for any immediate post-vaccination reactions, and then left. The line outside had wrapped around many blocks by then. 

While I was in line, I learned through Twitter that the expiring doses had been divvied among three local hospitals. They posted a call for appointments on Twitter, mostly looking for folks in the priority tiers. But doses were quickly expiring. At around 3 a.m., medical workers were looking to vaccinate anyone. A 75-year-old woman who runs a daycare left her house in a pair of flip flops. She was vaccinated on a street corner close to Swedish Cherry Hill

What happened in Seattle was a repeat of what happened a few weeks earlier, when a freezer in a northern California hospital containing 830 doses of the Moderna covid-19 vaccine malfunctioned and the medical staff decided the best move to make would be to inject every dose into anyone available, regardless of their priority status. 

In the aftermath of the late-night scramble to get vaccinated, I felt a strange mix of relief and guilt. I was relieved to be one step safer to the people around me in the community, all the while acknowledging that my social privilege, access to technology, and vehicle had given me a major advantage. If an incident like this happens again, which it very well may, given how sensitive these vaccines are, will those in line be more people like me: those with connections to healthcare workers, and who can drop whatever they’re doing and rush to a hospital?

Stephanie Morain, a medical ethicist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, says that even though we are better using doses than letting them go to waste, there are ways to use them to ensure that vaccine allocation doesn’t exacerbate these issues of privilege and access. 

Some vaccination sites across the country have set up formal registration systems. “Community members can put themselves in a queue, and distribution is prioritized not by those who happen to know the nurse who is on shift that day, but instead based on the formalized criteria,” she says“The latter, to me, is more ethically justifiable.”

Although what happened in the late-night scramble for a vaccine in Seattle was symbolic of many failures in the vaccine rollout, it showed us that when there’s a will, there’s a way. Doses were set to expire, and the community had to respond. Nurses and other frontline workers rallied to the call for volunteers to distribute vaccines almost immediately.

Toward the end of the night as the doses dwindled, one healthcare worker at UW Northwest said that she saw younger folks in line give up their spots to those who were older. By 3:30 a.m. on January 29, no doses went to waste. The circle of protection expanded. 

Wudan Yan is a freelance journalist in Seattle. 

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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BrioHR raises $1.3M ahead of Y Combinator’s demo day



As the next Y Combinator demo day approaches, more startups from the current Winter 2021 batch are showing up in our inboxes. One of the most interesting from the mix is BrioHR, which is building human resources (HR) software for Southeast Asia.

The company fits into a theme I’ve noticed amongst startups, namely a focus on taking proven software genre approaches to specific parts of the world, localizing them and building in-region winners. This theme is not new, of course, but it does feel slightly more pronounced amongst recent accelerator batches than before (TechCrunch covers Techstars, Y Combinator, 500 Startups and other accelerators as part of our startup focus). Perhaps this is the impact of so many accelerators going virtual, widening the founder pool from whom they might matriculate to include a more global group of founders.

Back to BrioHR itself, the company is announcing $1.3 million in fundraising, inclusive of its YC check. The investment was led by Global Founders Capital, and saw participation from East Ventures and angel investors.

TechCrunch caught up with Benjamin Croc, the company’s co-founder and CEO, who is located in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (the city pictured in the image at the top of this post). The time zones were tricky to navigate, but the company’s vision was simple enough: A software-as-a-service (SaaS) HR software suite, tailored to fit the laws of the Southeast Asian region.

Croc and his co-founder, Nabil Oudghiri, founded the company in 2018, incorporating in the second half of the year after talking over their idea for a few months. BrioHR did not launch its product until the fourth quarter of 2019, opening for what Croc described as early adopters. The startup launched more broadly in the first quarter of 2020, right in time for COVID-19 to shake up the world.

Its fundraising came in two chunks, one in the middle of 2020 and one that came in the third quarter of the year; the first chunk of the raise was larger than the second. BrioHR raised the capital using a convertible note, with terms that Croc described as near to standard.

In our conversation, TechCrunch was curious about how prevalent SaaS as a model is in Malaysia and the other countries the startups wants to sell into. The co-founder said that while SaaS is not as well known in his part of the world as it is in the United States — not a huge surprise given that the U.S. is the largest SaaS market in the world — he praised the speed at which Southeast Asian countries adopt business trends; if Croc is right, his view could point to a very active subscription software market in the region in coming years.

BrioHR competes with local companies that are more focused on providing single solutions, like payroll management. From our discussion, it appears that Croc hopes that by going broad, in a feature sense, BrioHR will surpass legacy competitors. The startup is itself still building out its regional tooling, providing payroll support in only a handful of countries. It intends to expand that service to new countries this year, and be everywhere with its payroll product in two to three years, its co-founder said.

Notably, even though it has already raised capital, BrioHR intends to take part in Y Combinator’s demo day. Croc said it is taking part for optionality. TechCrunch read that as the company isn’t actively looking to raise more capital at the moment, but wouldn’t turn down another convertible note at a comfortable cap. Then again, what company at any demo day would?

Since launching out of its early-adopter program, Croc said that the company has grown 10x. That’s not hard from a small base, so the company’s 2021 growth will be more illustrative of its true near-term potential. Let’s see what new metrics it breaks out in a few weeks’ time.

Early Stage is the premiere ‘how-to’ event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear firsthand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company-building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, legal, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in — there’s ample time included in each for audience questions and discussion.

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Twitter rolls out vaccine misinformation warning labels and a strike-based system for violations



Twitter announced Monday that it would begin injecting new labels into users’ timelines to push back against misinformation that could disrupt the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. The labels, which will also appear as pop-up messages in the retweet window, are the company’s latest product experiment designed to shape behavior on the platform for the better.

The company will attach notices to tweeted misinformation warning users that the content “may be misleading” and linking out to vetted public health information. These initial vaccine misinformation sweeps, which begin today, will be conducted by human moderators at Twitter and not automated moderation systems.

Twitter says the goal is to use these initial determinations to train its AI systems so that down the road a blend of human and automated efforts will scan the site for vaccine misinformation. The latest misinformation measure will target tweets in English before expanding.

Twitter also introduced a new strike system for violations of its pandemic-related rules. The new system is modeled after a set of consequences it implemented for voter suppression and voting-related misinformation. Within that framework, a user with two or three “strikes” faces a 12-hour account lockout. With four violations, they lose account access for one week, with permanent suspension looming after five strikes.

Twitter introduced its first pandemic-specific policies a year ago, banning tweets promoting false treatment or prevention claims along with any content that could put people at higher risk of spreading COVID-19. In December, Twitter added new rules focused on popular vaccine conspiracy theories and announced that warning labels were on the way.

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Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck explains why the company needs a bigger rocket, and why it’s going public to build it



Rocket Lab packed a ton of news into Monday to kick off this week: It’s going public via a SPAC merger, for one, and it’s also building a new, larger launch vehicle called Neutron to support heavier payloads. I spoke to Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck about why it’s building Neutron now, and why it’s also choosing to go public at the same time. Unsurprisingly, the two things are tightly linked.

“We have the benefit of flying Electron [Rocket Lab’s current, smaller launch vehicle] for a lot of customers. and we also have a Space Systems Division that supplies components into a number of spacecraft, including some of the mega constellations,” Beck told me. “So we have very strong relationships with, with a lot of different customers, and I think we get unique insight on where the industry is going, and where the where the pain points are.”

Those pain points informed Neutron, which is a two-stage reusable rocket. Rocket Lab already broke with Beck’s past thinking on what the launch market needed by developing partial reusability for Electron, and it’s going further still with Neutron, which will include a first-stage that returns to Earth and lands propulsively on a platform stationed at sea, much like SpaceX’s Falcon 9. But the market has shifted since Rocket Lab built Electron – in part because of what it helped unlock.

“The creation of Neutron came from from two discrete factors: One, the current need in the marketplace today. Also, if you project it forward a little bit, you know, Neutron will deliver the vast majority – over 90% of – all the satellites that, that are around or in some form of planning. And if you look at those satellites, 80% of them are mega constellations, by volume. So, in talking with, with a bunch of different customers, it was really, really apparent that a mega constellation-building machine is what the market really needs.”

Beck says that combining that market needs with a historical analysis that showed most large launch vehicles have taken off half-full resulted in them arriving at Neutron’s 8 metric ton (just over 17,600 lbs) total cargo mass capacity. it should put it in the sweet spot where it takes off full nearly every time, but also can still meet the mass requirement needs of just about every satellite customer out there, both now and in the future.

“We’re covered in scars and battle wounds from the development of Electron,” “The one thing that that Elon and I agree on very strongly is, by far the hardest part of a rocket is actually scaling it – getting to orbit is hard, but actually scaling manufacturing is ridiculously hard. Now, the good news is that we’ve been through all of that, and manufacturing ins’t just as product on the floor; it’s ERP systems, quality systems, finance, supply chain and so on and so forth. So all that infrastructure is is built.”

In addition to the factory and manufacturing processes and infrastructure, Beck notes that Electron and Neutron will share size-agnostic elements like computing and avionics, and much of the work done to get Electron certified for launch will also apply to Neutron, realizing further cost and time savings relative to what was required to get Electron up and flying. Beck also said that the process of making Electron has just made Rocket Lab extremely attuned to costs overall, and that will definitely translate to how competitive it can be with Neutron.

“Because electron has a $7.5 million sticker price, we’ve just been forced into finding ways to do things hyper efficiently,” he said. “If you’ve got a $7.5 million sticker price, you can’t spend $2 million on flight safety analysis, payload environmental analysis, etc – you just can’t do that. With a $60 or $80 million vehicle that you can amortize that. So we’ve kind of been forced into doing everything hyper, hyper efficiently. And it’s not just systems; it includes fundamental launch vehicle design. So when we apply all of those learnings to nNutron, we really feel like we’re gonna bring a highly competitive product to the marketplace.”

As for the SPAC merger, Beck said that the decision to go public now really boils down to two reasons: The first is to raise the capital required to build Neutron, as well as fund “other” projects. The other is to acquire the kind of “public currency” to pursue the kinds of acquisitions in terms of business that Rocket Lab is hoping to achieve. Why specifically pursue a SPAC merger instead of a traditional IPO? Efficiency and a fixed capital target, essentially.

“We were actually sort of methodically stepping towards an IPO at the time and, we were just sort of minding our own business, but it was clear we were pursued very vigorously by a tremendous number of potential SPAC partners,” Beck told me. “Ultimately, on the balance of timelines, this just really accelerated our ability to do the things we want to do. Because, yes, as you pointed out, that this kind of streamlined the process, but also provided certainty around proceeds.”

The SPAC transaction, once complete will result in Rocket Lab having approximately $750 million in cash to work with. One of the advantages of the SPAC route is that how much you raise via the public listing isn’t reliant on how the stock performs on the day – Beck and company know and can plan on that figure becoming available to them, barring any unexpected and unlikely barriers to the transaction’s closing.

“Having all the capital we need, sitting there ready to go, that really sets us up for a strong execution,” he said. “If you look at Rocket Lab’s history, we’ve only raised spend a couple of hundred million dollars to date, within all the things we’ve done. So capitalizing the company with $750 million – I would expect big things at that point.”

Early Stage is the premiere ‘how-to’ event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear firsthand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company-building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, legal, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in — there’s ample time included in each for audience questions and discussion.

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