What have vaccines got to do with IT Services? 

It won’t have escaped your notice that there is a global pandemic and, crucially, that vaccines are available to help keep us all safe. Oxford continues to play a key role in making this all happen. So, what have vaccines got to do with IT Services and how was this important role managed?

During March 2020, the IT Services CMS and Web Platform Team was given short notice that Oxford’s COVID-19 Vaccine Trial website was going to be built using the Mosaic platform. With only seven days before the site needed to be available for use, actions needed taking very quickly to manage demand on this already busy platform.

Managing demand and content accuracy 

The team knew that the vaccine website was likely to see lots of visitors and quickly arranged for a pair of dedicated load-balancers to be set up to handle the traffic. These channel visits to the vaccine site(s) separately from other sites hosted on Mosaic. This continues to ensure that the vaccine websites are highly available and, importantly, that nearly 700 other websites built using Mosaic remain unaffected by the significantly increased traffic. This was particularly useful when additional trials were launched, each with their own websites. 

The team also made improvements to cache management in Mosaic, which meant that content updates were reflected on the sites without delay – vitally important when the latest information needs to be available to others right away.

Working together 

As it turned out, a further three vaccine trial websites (so far) were also developed using Mosaic, all with tight turnaround times. Several other vaccine-related websites have also been built using Mosaic as well as an anti-viral website.

Working closely with the Oxford Vaccine Group (OVG), the Mosaic team typically received fewer than ten days’ notice of new launch dates (I.e., from request to launch). OVG built the content of these sites in very tight time frames as well!

Close liaison between the teams was a key part of ensuring the smooth launch of each site. In particular, the Mosaic team avoided conducting maintenance when vaccine trials were launched and ensured good levels of support cover at those times, especially when the trials were the subject of government announcements. 

Vaccine trial (COV-Boost 3rd Dose) site traffic graph. Graph shows spikes in visitor numbers when the Secretary of State for Health read out the URL on the 6pm and 10pm news on 19 May 2021.

Vaccine trial site traffic graph for the COV-Boost 3rd Dose trial launch. The graph shows spikes in visitor numbers when the Secretary of State for Health read out the URL on the 6pm and 10pm news on 19 May 2021.

Overall, the launches were smooth with little special support needed, proof that good planning and effective communication can result in great things.

The results speak for themselves 

The COVID-19 Vaccine Trial website alone was responsible for an impressive 8.5 per cent of all Mosaic traffic in 2020-21 - that’s 3.2 million page views!  

OVG also built a Mosaic website for a trial being led by another institution. OVG, as a member of the National Immunisation Schedule Evaluation Consortium (NISEC), provided IT infrastructure for the trial, including hosting the trial website. Mosaic was chosen because of the ease of setup and ability to host independently branded sites with non-Oxford URLs.

Rob Aley, Data Manager at OVG said: 

During a time of unprecedented pressure, the Mosaic team stepped up and provided the cover and capacity we needed to deliver high profile websites under extremely tight deadlines, taking one of the many pressures away from our internal IT team. Like many other colleagues around the University, the Mosaic team were (and still are) a vital part of delivering the ongoing COVID-19 response. The ability to get sites set up quickly, get technical issues resolved quickly, have questions and queries answered, and have a reliable public-facing platform is invaluable.