'Vaccine angels' can only do so much: US struggles to make it easier to find COVID-19 vaccination appointments
Despite creating three COVID-19 vaccines in less than a year, America's fragmented health system doesn't offer a simple way to sign up to get a shot.
Their posts show the difficulties people face."I am trying to help someone who lives in a FEMA designated zip code in Dallas and has severe underlying conditions to get an appointment for a vaccine. I put his name on the Dallas County list. Is there anything else I can do? Should I go ahead and register him everywhere else?" read one from Texas.
A New Jersey vaccine hunter, who lives in a rural area where Wi-Fi is not strong, questioned why a Rite Aid pharmacy appointment site asked users to choose a time when every time she clicked on already was full.A fellow hunter answered: "They give it to whoever is fastest filling everything out. It's kind of messed up, but it is what it is."
Looking for a COVID-19 vaccination appointment?Try these websites.That's what led Muerdter, a programmer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, to write his code. Colleagues complained two weeks ago that they couldn't make appointments for their parents. So he sat down at night and wrote some quick and dirty computer code to automate looking for open pharmacy vaccination appointments in Colorado. headtopics.com
When it launched, the governor called to congratulate him and asked if the state could use it, too. On Thursday, he created a rough but serviceable national site at, doing the same thing for pharmacy chains whose data he can access.On Saturday, Arkansas state Sen. Greg Leding
tweeted outthe address of Muerdter's site, noting Arkansas had no centralized hub of its own to help connect residents to vaccines.There are other vaccine-finding sites, including one created by the federal government that was started in 2011 during the H1N1 flu pandemic and has been relaunched to help find the COVID-19 vaccine.
The site,vaccinefinder.org,gives users current vaccine eligibility for their ZIP code and shows what appointments are available at nearby national pharmacy chain stores, said John Brownstein, chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital and its creator.
For now, the site has information only on health department and other vaccination clinic appointments in a handful of states, but more are being added every day. Eventually Brownstein hopes to add the ability to make appointments nationwide.Even in its current form, the site is getting millions of hits and helping people get immunized. headtopics.com
"Even though they still have to register for an appointment, the site told them where there was vaccine near them, which cuts down on frustration," Brownstein said.'Minutes, not hours'The difficulties of signing up to be vaccinated are a failure of the system, Dr. Ashish Jha
testifiedbefore the House Ways and Means Committee on Friday."Scheduling an appointment for a vaccine should take minutes, not hours. It should involve a few clicks on a webpage or a quick phone call, not crashing web portals or endless phone calls with five different health care providers," said Jha, dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University.
The ideal is a statewide system with both a functional 1-800 phone line and a solid online appointment component. Health officials call that a mosaic approach, accessible to all people regardless of their tech ability.Systems also should allow residents to preregister for the vaccine and confirm they've gotten a place in line.
“Here in Baltimore County (Maryland), we have a preregistration system, but there’s no confirmation. You don’t get an email or text message, so you’re never sure if you’re application was really registered by the system,” Johns Hopkins professor Dai said. headtopics.com
Users should also be able to cancel if they get an appointment elsewhere and check their status as they wait. “It’s like being in line at the bank: You want to make sure it’s still moving,” Dai said.In Tennessee, counties have complained that systems are slowed by wait lists clogged with people who have been able to get vaccinated elsewhere.
"If you get a shot here at Vanderbilt University, the county has no way of knowing it," McPheeters said. "It would be so helpful if we could bump these lists against one and other and share data."New Mexico and West Virginia are two states with strong appointment systems that effectively use phone lines and websites. New Mexico has the
second-highest rate of COVID-19 vaccinationin the country, at 22%. And West Virginia, one of the poorest states in the nation, comes in strong at 18%.Johnson & Johnson entered the fight against COVID-19 as its single-shot vaccine was approved over the weekend. It plans to deliver 100 million vaccines in the first half of 2021.
Even the best-performing states rely on residents reaching out, what's known as a "pull system." But experts say a better approach is a "push system" in which the vaccine comes to the consumer.That's how it works in Israel, which had vaccinated 51% of its citizens as of Friday.
Because the country has an electronic national health system, the name, age and contact information of every citizen known is known and people are automatically put on a vaccine priority list. When they become eligible, they get either a call, a text message or an email, and a link that allows them to make an appointment.
That's impossible in the United States because government and health care company systems are siloed by design because of concerns about privacy, McPheeters said.But something similar could be done, Dai said.“When the United States government wants to find you to pay your taxes," he noted, "they have no problem doing so."
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