The COVID Vaccine Rollout Has Been So Chaotic People Are Making Their Own Websites to Find Appointments

Websites built by individuals on a volunteer basis provide an alternative to navigating government bureaucracy.
February 9, 2021, 5:53pm
A healthcare worker administers the Pfizer BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination site inside a church in the Bronx borough of New York, U.S., on Friday, Feb. 5, 2021.
A healthcare worker administers the Pfizer BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination site inside a church in the Bronx borough of New York, U.S., on Friday, Feb. 5, 2021. (Photographer: Angus Mordant/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Hunting for a coronavirus vaccine appointment in the U.S. has been compared to the Hunger Games. Now, private individuals are taking it upon themselves to create online solutions that cut through confusing and burdensome government websites, and make the search a little easier. 

Olivia Adams, a 28-year-old software developer currently on maternity leave from her employer, Athenahealth, recently made a website where people can see available vaccine appointments at a few locations in Massachusetts, according to WBUR. In a tweet Monday, Adams said she’d been contacted by a member of the state’s coronavirus command center about her makeshift site.

Advertisement

“I'll work to meet with them this week!” Adams wrote on Twitter. “By the way, anybody want to be a nanny for a week? Asking for a friend…”

Zane Stiles, an associate in Bain Capital’s private equity department, created an even more comprehensive volunteer-run site in Massachusetts to help accomplish a similar goal, the Boston Globe reported.

The fact that people made these websites voluntarily in the span of a few weeks, when state and local governments had months to prepare, is a testament to how chaotic the nation’s vaccine rollout has become. 

For many, searching for a vaccine has been a nightmarish process in which elderly people and their families are forced to try to snag shots via Eventbrite, cope with crashing websites, and spend hours trying to book an appointment.

Some of the websites created by independent volunteer web developers in recent weeks show whether doses are actually available at each site. Not every government-run platform can say the same. People using Massachusetts’ state-run website often have to fill out a form before they can figure out whether a location has run out of doses, according to the Globe. 

And independent vaccine websites aren’t just confined to Massachusetts. 

For Californians looking for information about the shot, there’s VaccinateCA, a website run by volunteers—many of whom happen to work in the tech industry, according to the Mercury News . They “call medical professionals at hundreds of potential vaccination sites daily, asking them if they have the vaccine and if so to whom they will administer it to and how to get an appointment,” according to the platform’s website. 

In New York City, Huge Ma, a software engineer at Airbnb, made his website, TurboVax, for less than $50. It shows vaccine availability across the city, and posts the information to Twitter, according to the New York Times. Ma’s website isn’t the only platform of its kind in New York—there’s also the volunteer-driven NYC Vaccine List, according to The Verge.

Ma told VICE News that he only heard from people who built the city’s vaccine website hub after he was profiled by the New York Times. He added that governments are probably not investing enough, or not investing coherently enough, in their own technology. 

In a statement, a spokesperson for New York City's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene did not directly answer questions about whether or not they would work with developers like Ma to improve the city's vaccine website, but said they continue to think about how to improve user experience and have made a number of upgrades.

“If we treat every little project as a one-off, we get fragmented solutions like we see today. This needs top-down alignment that is admittedly difficult to attain with so many stakeholders,” Ma said.