Entrepreneurs try to fill gaps in vaccine distribution and information inequalities

World Today

These are busy times on the vaccine distribution front. An average of close to two million Americans a day are now being inoculated. And yet for those next in line, the wait for the first dose can be agonizing.

“Several days had gone by and I hadn’t heard anything from any of the hospital groups that I’d registered with so I wasn’t sure how long this was going to take,” said Pat Woodard, a Colorado resident who was eligible for the vaccine.

He turned to pharmacy websites to book an appointment.

“Repeatedly you just would go over and over back to these same sites, going through the same process over and over, trying to hit one, kind of like trying to hit the mother lode,” Woodard said.

“It’s a nightmare to be honest,” said Maria St. Louis-Sanchez, another resident who was looking for appointments for her family and experienced the same thing.

“You had to go through five different stages just to find out they don’t have an appointment at that one spot and then you have to start all over again,” she said.

A co-worker of hers built a website, vaccinespotter.org, to address the problem.

“Everybody was just trying everything they could because they desperately want vaccines for their loved ones,” said Nick Muerdter, the website’s developer.

He’s grouped all available Colorado pharmacy appointment in one place. Meantime, COVIDShotFinder.com is helping people find open vaccine slots, information and volunteer opportunities across the U.S. A one-stop shop.

“We point you where to go,” said Dayne Katz, the website’s co-creator. “I think a lot of places this is a problem. Depending on the state you live in or the county you live in, these websites are confusing or they don’t exist.”

Katz and his partners believe a centralized system for linking people with shots is lacking.

“I just think there’s a lack of a primary source, an organized source,” said Dr. Allen Naygauzen, a physician who’s helped develop the site. “It’s very chaotic to say the least.”

That’s prompted a host of online efforts to spring up to help folks, especially the less tech-savvy, navigate an often complicated process.

“They don’t have those tech skills,” St. Louis-Sanchez said. “I mean I’m a web developer and I’m still having trouble signing them up for those vaccine appointments.”

She booked four family members in two days thanks to her colleague.

“Sort of as a software engineer, I just love automating things and that’s where my mind goes,” Muerdter said.
COVIDShotFinder.com plans to keep adding features and services to stay relevant.

“We’re taking you exactly where you need to go, in terms of a one click there it is,” Katz said.

In the end, Woodard managed to get an appointment at a pharmacy 160 kilometers away. He’ll get his second dose there too, rather than dig up a shot closer to home.

“I decided I didn’t want to play that game,” Woodard said. “Bird in the hand.”

As for yours truly, word of mouth helped me get my appointment. When it comes to finding vaccines, it may be better to be lucky than good.