The Unofficial Guide to Getting a COVID Vaccine

The vaccine rollout has been confusing at best. These volunteers are here to help.
March 12, 2021, 2:00pm
An image of a covid-19 vaccine dose.
Image: Justin Tallis - Pool / Getty Images

The rollout for the COVID-19 vaccine is in full swing across the United States, but access to it has varied widely between states, counties, and even clinics. Figuring out how and where to get the vaccine is still confusing, and the official websites to sign up are often terrible, overloaded, broken, or confusing. Volunteer-run digital resources are filling in the gaps.

Across the country, people are turning to volunteer run and DIY resources in order to find appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine. There are now hundreds of websites, Twitter accounts, Facebook groups, Slack channels, and bots dedicated to helping people sign up to get the vax, most of which are focused on a specific state or geographic area. 

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Ben Cohen, who helped build the site Covid Vaccine Texts, which sends you a text message when there's an available appointment to be vaccinated in your area, told Motherboard that he built the system after having trouble finding an appointment to vaccinate his mother. It wasn't until the site launched that he saw how much it was needed.

"We launched at 11 p.m. one night and woke up to a few hundred signups and a few dozen feature requests and thank you emails by the next morning, which really solidified the picture that folks needed more resources to feel in control," Cohen said.

“The rollout is a form of The Hunger Games online, and folks who should be at the front of the line don't have the tools to play.”

Although each state has its own guidelines for vaccination and its own ways of communicating that information to the public, Cohen said that from his perspective, one of the great difficulties is simply making an appointment. In most parts of the country, there's no way to call a doctor or vaccine site to be put on a waiting list. If you're not tech-savvy, or don't speak English, or do shift or gig work in a restaurant, rideshare, grocery store, construction site, or other job where you can’t be in front of a computer at all hours, trying to make an appointment at all can be extremely frustrating.

"We tried to make our website as user friendly as possible, but even navigating our form and following up on appointment notices is hard for some folks for various reasons, and these tend to be the ones who need shots most," Cohen said. "We've got a number of people signed up for our site who are doing so on behalf of others (largely teachers and older folks) in their community, which is awesome, and something I think we need more of."

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Katherine Profeta from West Brooklyn Mutual Aid, who have recently started helping people in their area make appointments for the vaccine, also said that while great websites and tech tools are helpful, they don't always make it to the people who need it most. Some mutual aid organizations have volunteers dedicated to making appointments for people who can’t, and have set up third-party systems for making appointments in ways that are more familiar to the elderly (by setting up phone lines to call). They also focus on getting information out to people who just don't know what to Google for. 

"About 2 weeks ago we launched this effort (thanks in large part to the efforts of a woman named Rachel Moldauer). Our dispatchers started asking all callers, who call us for other reasons, whether they were eligible for a vaccine and would be interested in help with booking an appointment," Profeta said. During this soft launch of the program, they've been able to book ten appointments. As West Brooklyn Mutual Aid tries to expand their outreach, they're hoping to increase the volume of appointments they can make.

If you understand the system, helping other people navigate it at this point is invaluable.

Profeta, Cohen, and newsletter-turned-vaccination effort Epicenter-NYC told Motherboard that the most vulnerable populations aren't getting the information they need.

"New York is better than many states, but I don't think that's saying a lot. The main problem with the rollout is that it is a form of The Hunger Games online and the folks who should be at the front of the line, elderly and essential workers, don't have the tools or digital savvy to play," S. Mitra Kalita from Epicenter-NYC said. "The state needs to talk to people in terms that are concrete and accessible—there's so much confusion within the categories. Again, to circumvent the system, you must know the system."

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While many volunteers have created their own websites or Twitter accounts, like the popular Turbo Vax or state specific resources like NYC Vaccine List, that's not the most helpful option for everyone. That said, if you do understand the system, helping other people navigate it at this point is invaluable.

"All the people who posted and shared tips and tricks for how to see cancellations come up, did it as volunteers," Profeta said. "All the people who learned how to book appointments when struggling to do so for their grandparents or parents, and then thought 'hmmm now I have a hard-earned skill I should share with others (a frequent narrative),' did it as volunteers."


In an attempt to connect as many people as possible with these resources, Motherboard is attempting to compile a list of volunteer or nonprofit vaccine resource centers. This list is non-exhaustive and we have not been able to test every single one. Some of them may be projects that were started and abandoned, for example. But we hope some of these may help you with your quest to get a vaccine appointment for yourself or a loved one. 

We have tried to group them by geographic area. If there are any resources that should be added please email us at gita.jackson@vice.com

National:

COVID-19 Vaccine Spotter

Helps track available vaccines in your local pharmacies

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COVID Vaccine Texts 

Texts you when an appointment is available in your area

Vax Maxx 

Nationwide finder for RiteAid, Walgreens and CVS

VacFind

A list of state-by-state vaccine resources

VacFind Discord

VacFind's Discord server, to help them crowdsource resources 

Dr. B 

Standby list for leftover vaccines

California:

CA Covid

Volunteer run Twitter account for vaccine appointments and news

San Francisco Immunization Coalition

Community health organization in the Bay Area with resources on how to get a vaccine

Colorado:

Colorado Vax Alerts

Twitter bot that tweets out available appointments for vaccination

Connecticut:

New York/Connecticut Vaccine Hunters & Angels

Facebook group for people looking for appointments for vaccination

Florida:

South Florida Mutual Aid

Facebook group for a mutual aid organization that is helping people schedule appointments

Lousiana:

La Vax Alerts

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Twitter bot that announces available appointments in Louisiana

Maryland:

Maryland Vaccine Hunters

Large, active Facebook group for locating and appointments and asking for help

Massachusetts:

COVID Vaccine Scraper

Open source application for scraping information related to vaccination appointments from pharmacy sites, originally created for Massachusetts

Massachusetts Covid Vaccines

Website to locate appointments for vaccination

Minnesota:

Minneapolis Vaccine Hunters 

Facebook Group for people looking for the vaccine

Missouri:

KC Metro Vaccines

Website that lists available appointments in the Kansas City metro area, as well as vaccine information

KC Vaccine Watch

Twitter bot that tweets out available appointments

New Jersey:

NJ Vaccine

Twitter bot that tweets out locations with available appointments in New Jersey

C19 Vaxx Updates

Volunteer run Twitter account that tweets out available appointments and vaccine news 


New Jersey Covid Vaccine Sites Facebook group

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Facebook group for people looking for available vaccines and appointment

New York: 

NYC Vaccine List

Appointment finder for the New York City area

Epicenter-NYC

Mutual aid group helping people schedule vaccine appointments

West Brooklyn Waterfront Mutual Aid

 Mutual aid group helping people schedule vaccine appointments

NYC Shotslots

Twitter account that tweets out pharmacies and other locations with open appointments

Turbo Vax

Popular New York City area tool for finding open appointments for vaccinations

North Carolina:

UNC Health

University of North Carolina’s vaccine portal, which creates new appointment slots every weekday.

Duke Health

Duke allows you to sign up for a waitlist which will email you when an appointment is available.

Oklahoma:

Vaccine Alerts OK

Twitter bot that tweets out available appointments

Pennsylvania:

Vaccinate PA

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A team of volunteers calling pharmacies and hospitals for vaccination availability.

Texas:

Austin Vaccine Spreadsheet

Everything people in Austin should know about the vaccine, all in a handy spreadsheet

Texas Vaccine Update Slack

Slack group for statewide updates on the vaccine

HEB Vaccine Tracker

Website that tracks vaccine appointments at H-E-B