Needle in a Haystack

Imagine if we were searching for a flight and had to sign in to each of the airlines’ websites, one by one, then enter all our personal details in each site, and only then learn whether a flight was available on a particular day. That’s pretty much the scenario we now face in trying to get an appointment for a Covid-19 vaccine. Because our Federal government did such a poor job in planning for the rollout of vaccines, we’re left with a hodgepodge of locally developed websites and phone numbers to try to make an appointment.

San Diego County, where I reside, runs a website where they list vaccine locations. But it’s not until you answer a bunch of questions and view a map, do you learn whether appointments are available at the location you choose. If there are no appointments, which is usually the case, you need to start over, choosing another location. Using the criteria of finding a site closest to you  makes little sense when the vaccine is so scarce. Instead, they should use finding any appointment within a 25-minute drive as the criteria.

These apps seem like they were written by those that write the apps for getting a DMV appointment where you choose a time, and then they tell you if its available. Sort of like playing Battleship.

My provider, Scripps Health, has been sending out emails when they have some appointments available, but by the time it takes to sign into their app, the appointments are gone. Their last email went to 150,000 eligible members for a couple of thousand appointments.

The problem is exacerbated, of course, by the number of vaccines available compared to the number looking to receive them. And, according to the government, it’s unclear when when this will improve until they get a better understanding of the entire supply chain. Yet even with the shortage, pharmacies and supermarkets are now going to be receiving vaccines directly from the Federal government. To get an appointment we’ll now need to try additional sites using new apps being rolled out by Walgreens, CVS, Vons, and others. Doesn’t this just exacerbate the problem? Distributing the same number of vaccines to additional locations. It will make it even more difficult to find an appointment until the supply increases.

What we really need is an app that can search all of the appointments from all of the sites simultaneously, and then provide us with a list of all the available locations and appointment times. All from a single app.

This is what a software developer, Dan Benamy, did in NYC. According to The Verge, “He reached out to some friends and colleagues to start building a platform to pull every open vaccine appointment into one, easy-to-use site. Right now, it pulls in vaccine appointments from around 40 locations.

“We just saw a place that we could help,” Benamy says. “When they opened up vaccination slots to older folks, my grandparents qualified. I went online to try and figure it all out. New York City has this nice site that lists all the places where you can get vaccines, but you have to check each location individually to see if there’s any availability. I thought that there was an opportunity to aggregate some of this information. I reached out to a couple of folks I knew initially, and we started building this very quickly. Other folks started coming in on the effort — developers, designers, other people.”

The entire effort took him about a week to do. Let’s hope someone in our new administration is working on a national solution much like this. Or how about Google or Apple writing that app?

But the other issue that apps don’t solve are how the  many who are eligible and need a vaccine are not computer savvy. For them we need another solution: a force mobilized to identify eligible recipients, find them an appointment, and get them to the site. In other words, we need a Stacy Abrams of Vaccines.




by Phil Baker