In the U.S., about 10 percent of adults have received full vaccinations against the coronavirus. While this is great news, this also means we have a long way to go before herd immunity is achieved. Throughout the country, states have created different procedures for vaccine administration. Priority is given to specific groups based on risk, but in many cases, these systems have been lacking. Many find it difficult to get vaccine appointments using public and private websites. Likewise, few states have effective ways with dealing with appointment no-shows. As a result, COVID vaccines in some instances are going to waste.
Appreciating the challenges associated with scheduling a COVID vaccine, a number of entrepreneurial individuals are developing solutions. (Read more about the challenges that lie ahead with a vaccine roll out in this Bold Business story.) Some scour online sites to find when and where available vaccine appointments might be. Others are attempting to connect extra vaccination vials with those able and willing to come on the fly. In both cases, private business is trying to enhance the efficiency and quality of scheduling a COVID vaccine. And in the process, they’re helping all of us inch ever closer to the end of this pandemic.
“The state just had a list of all possible locations with no insight into availability, and it seemed like each location had their own website and unique process for booking an appointment. No wonder people were having trouble!” – Olivia Adams, Software Developer, Arlington, MA
Crowdsourcing to the Rescue
As is often stated, necessity is the mother of invention. This has certainly been the case when it comes to developing solutions for scheduling a COVID vaccine. Some apps and platforms designed to assist others with finding vaccine appointments resulted from existing frustrations. Such was the case for Ben Warlick, an attorney in Georgia who was trying to find vaccines for his parents. After seeing the shortcomings of the state’s websites, he created Georgia Vax App to help others. The app scans government websites to find open appointments. Users then receive text alerts based on openings and their qualifications. He has over 40,000 people currently using his app currently.
Warlick isn’t the only person leveraging crowdsourcing to help others find vaccine appointments. Olivia Adams took advantage of her maternity leave to develop a website that helped with scheduling a COVID vaccine. By logging onto MAcovidvaccine.com, users can quickly see open availabilities through Massachusetts. Adams, a software developer by trade, developed an automated system to scrape appointment information from other sites. These sites included government, grocery chains, and other sites where vaccinations were being administered. She too has gained a significantly following in the process.
These are just two examples of how crowdsourcing is being used to address issues related to scheduling a COVID vaccine. Similar apps using disruptive technologies have been developed in other states including California, Michigan, New Jersey, and Texas. Of course, these systems require Internet connectivity and the use of a computer or smartphone. Likewise, they do little to address the problem related to wasted leftover vaccines. While these are valuable efforts to help people get the vaccine appointments they need, they are not the complete solution.
“Ultimately, patients need this vaccine, and there’s providers who need help getting it to the people of priority…Right now, we just want to get the vaccines allocated in the best possible way.” – Cyrus Massoumi, Founder of Mr. B
A COVID Vaccine Matchmaker
Other efforts in resolving the dilemmas surrounding vaccine appointments have been more enterprising. A New York startup launched a platform last month that matches vaccine providers with leftover doses to patients. The company goes by the name of Dr. B, and it was created by founder Cyrus Massoumi. Massoumi previously founded ZocDoc, which matched patients with providers with open medical appointments. He also founded Shadow, a service that helps owners find lost pets. In essence, he specializes in platforms designed to connect people.
Dr. B is a free platform for both providers and patients, and it collects information from both sources. Those seeking vaccine appointments provide date of birth, health status, address, and occupation to the site. Then, when a provider in the system has leftover vaccine, texts are sent to qualified individuals. They have 15 minutes to respond, and they must be at the site within two hours. In total, Dr. B already has 500,000 people interested in scheduling a COVID vaccine as well as hundreds of providers. Likewise, Dr. B is operational in 30 states currently.
Like the crowdsourcing solutions, scheduling a COVID vaccine on these systems require Internet connectivity and devices. Efforts are being made, however, to make access to vaccine appointments more equitable. For Dr. B, the platform allows community volunteers to sign up others for vaccine appointments and notifications. Massoumi also chose to initially launch information campaigns using Zoom calls with minority churches and organizations. The site is also available in both English and Spanish. At least in part, these attempt to address some of the disparities associated with vaccine appointments currently.
“It seems [Massoumi is] trying to solve a problem and do some good, but I’m sad that governments — counties, cities, national organizations — didn’t prepare for this and then didn’t react more quickly to give advice and guidance.”- Arthur Caplan, Medical Ethicist, Grossman School of Medicine, New York
A Lesson for Public Institutions to Follow
The apps and platforms being developed to assist with COVID vaccine appointments highlight business innovation. In many ways, the pandemic has served as a catalyst for such innovation, especially in related to healthcare and technology. (Read more about some of the positive changes and innovations the pandemic has brought about in this Bold Business story.) At present, public and government systems have been chaotic and confusing when it comes to scheduling a COVID vaccine. As a result, many who are most vulnerable are having difficulty getting access to proper care. Fortunately, private business has stepped up and is helping address these problems. To tackle the issues surrounding this pandemic, it takes a village. And bold businesses play a major role in this regard.
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