Huge Ma, a 31-year-old software engineer with Airbnb, was surprised when he tried to schedule a coronavirus vaccination appointment for his mother in early January and found that there were dozens of websites to check out, each one. The web has its own registration process. . The city and state appointment systems are completely different.
“There must be a better way,” he said, remembering what he thought.
So he developed one. In less than two weeks, he launched TurboVax, a free website that aggregates availability from three major New York city and state vaccine systems and sends real-time information to it. Twitter. Mr. Ma costs $ 50 less to build, but it provides an easier way to locate appointments than the official city and state systems.
“It was a challenge for myself, to prove what someone with the time and a bit of motivation can do,” he said last week. “This is not a priority for governments, which is regrettable. But everyone has a role to play in the pandemic, and I’m doing just as little as I can to make it a little easier. “
Officials have acknowledged that supply shortages and problems with access to vaccination appointments are some of the barriers to the equitable distribution of vaccines in New York City and across the country. America.
Recently released city statistics show vaccines are being shipped to white New Yorkers, not Black and brown communities, who suffered the most damage during the first wave pandemic.
For example, only 12% of the approximately 210,000 city dwellers over the age of 65 and who have been vaccinated are Black, even though Blacks make up 24% of the city’s population.
“The only way they can access those appointments is by using a very, very complex technology platform that by itself marginalizes the elderly community that I serve.” Said Eboné Carrington, executive director of Harlem Hospital. of the previous month. As a result, she said, whites from outside Harlem for weeks filled most of her available positions.
So a number of volunteers in New York, as well as in states including Texas, California, and Massachusetts, have tried to use their technology skills to simplify that process.
Jeremy Novich, 35, a clinical psychologist from the Upper West Side, Manhattan, began contacting seniors after realizing that his older relatives couldn’t make their own appointments.
“The system is set to be a technology race between 25 and 85 years old,” he said. “It’s not a race, it’s the neglect of the elderly.”
Together with two friends, on January 12, he formed the Vaccination Appointment Support Group, a personal effort that began by helping elders from local synagogues and opening Extensive to help people sign up via phone hotline or web form. Due to high demand, the service – which currently has 20 employees in charge of volunteering – has now stopped accepting new cases and the founders are thinking of partnering with a nonprofit to increase capacity.
The most ambitious online volunteer support effort in the city is the NYC Vaccine List, a website that aggregates appointments from more than 50 immunization sites – municipal, state and private. About 20 volunteers wrote code, contacted community organizations and phoned immunization centers directly to inform about the center’s ability to operate.
Dan Benamy, software developer for Datadog and one of the founders of the NYC Vaccine List, said when he was searching for dates for his grandparents, he was impressed by the appointment system. How much labor.
“I’m an engineer and an optimizer, so I looked at this and said that it looks like we could look at putting this data together and aggregating it, to find Getting vaccines is faster and easier, ”he said.
Mr. Benamy contacted a few friends and got to work. The site goes live 5 days later, on January 16.
Inspired by VaccinateCA, a volunteer-run vaccine website in California, the NYC Vaccine List not only lists appointments available in cities and states, but also allows users to click through directly. More up to a number of appointment times are available, saving precious minutes of which some time may go away.
In terms of efficiency, the website also provides a real-time view of how fiercely competitive the appointment process is. For example, at 2:30 p.m. on January 28, hundreds of openings appeared, including 45 at the city’s Brooklyn Army Marine Terminal, and more at a location operated by the city. in the Bronx. Within 15 minutes, they were gone.
These sites do not solve all accessibility problems, as they still require computer skills and are only beneficial to those who know about them. As of Feb. 8, the NYC Vaccine List has received around 16,000 unique visitors a day, still a fraction of the millions of eligible New Yorkers who need appointments, its founders said.
But by making the process more efficient, the web is slashing the path for hundreds of people struggling to find a spot. Their Twitter feed was already flooded with the message of gratitude, and the NYC Vaccine List has been labeled as the “hottest website” in the city by Mark Levine, a councilor. Recently they added Google’s translation feature to the website.
“As the number of volunteers increases and we build and operate these basic parts, we want to make it accessible to as many people as possible,” Mr. Benamy36 years old, lives in Brooklyn.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised to improve the scheduling system, which he called “too cumbersome” at a recent press conference, and the city upgraded one of its main scheduling locations to be more friendly. with users last week.
Both the city and state also offer the option of telephone scheduling. The state hotline recently added a special option for people 75 and older, as well as a callback service. But the operators at those hotlines book appointments in the same city or state operating center, where most appointments are handled by users of the web-based system coming first, first serve.
Software developers stalking some public scheduling websites were amazed to see how messy it is there. Paul Schrieber, 42, a free software engineer in Brooklyn, said he was worried about spelling mistakes and other errors in the vaccine center’s code made by the city health department during the first month. first. The new website, which launched on February 1, looks “significantly better,” he said.
“Even grading on a very generous curve – this is a government website, not Amazon.com – it’s really bad,” he said.
Mr. Schrieber has done some preliminary work on building his own appointment site and is looking at how he can incorporate updates to the city-operated location.
Some of the tech help comes from pure opportunity.
Adriana Scamparini, 45, a corporate lawyer living in Manhattan’s Gramercy area, spent 18 hours trying to make an appointment with her father. After doing so, she realizes that the password she used for an appointment website is stored on her phone, allowing her to skip a public page with no appointments.
She began to reach out to friends, family, and doorkeepers to see if they knew elders who needed help. She sets up email addresses for people who don’t have them. She prints out appointment cards and delivers them to everyone’s homes. She made about 30 appointments and traveled personally with seven people to a vaccination site in Lower Manhattan, mostly in the middle of the night when the appointments were easier. For her efforts, she received tears of gratitude, greeting cards, and flowers.
“I don’t have a computer and Wi-Fi,” said Mariley Carlota, a Brazilian widow living alone on the Upper East Side. She got her first nose at 4:30 am on January 19 thanks to Miss Scamparini. “She’s like an angel to me.”
Ms. Carlota was scared when she went to the doctor and went shopping. Now, she is scheduled for endoscopy, endoscopy, and physiotherapy for February. She cried thinking she would soon be able to return to church and her friends there.
“It was like I had won the lottery,” she said.