SEATTLE - When the COVID-19 vaccine got to Washington state, many vulnerable people thought this was finally what was going to save their life. But many quickly found out it’s incredibly difficult to actually get an appointment.
Some have compared it to a full time job. And when you factor in the most vulnerable population, seniors, often not being particularly computer savvy, it’s a recipe for frustration and despair.
But a few tech savvy Washingtonians thought there has to be a better way. They knew they couldn’t fix the issue of the vaccine shortage, but they realized they had a special skillset to make it easier to find out which locations have appointments available.
It all started with a bit of curiosity.
"I just typed in ‘how do I get a vaccine in Washington state,’" says Daniel Morris, a Microsoft employee who recently moved from the UK to Seattle.
When Morris got here, he wondered what the vaccine process was like in Washington, so he pulled up the Department of Health’s website and clicked on its vaccine finder.
"I see like 150 different links on the site and I’m sitting there and I’m like surely this is not the way it is."
Morris found the site lists dozens of locations that *might* have the vaccine and *might* have appointments. The only way to find out is to call them individually or go to their individual websites. With vaccine supply so low and demand so high, it’s a process that can take many hours just to determine there are no appointments.
"It’s one of those problems that can be solved fairly quickly technically," explains Morris. And he quickly found he wasn’t the only one thinking this way. He soon connected with four other people with a tech background on social media who all shared his same thought-there had to be an easier way to make an appointment.
"We all agreed lets kick this off."
Once they got their project off the ground, the five creators began reaching out to fellow tech friends for help.
"I worried about the people who don't have the skills or tenacity to do like I did and check 30 sites every hour," says Maureen O’Hara.
O’Hara is one of the volunteers the team recruited. She used to work for Microsoft, and even she greatly struggled with checking dozens of websites all day every day in order to get an appointment.
"The people that need them most, our older seniors are having the hardest time getting an appointment," says O’Hara.
Together the team thinks they’ve come up with a solution: covidwa.com. Thanks to special coding created by volunteers, the homepage of the site shows you locations in Washington where they actually have appointments available, making the process drastically easier and faster.
"We're not curing COVID, but we can make the appointments available so the people who need them most can get them," says O’Hara.
81-year-old Jackie is proof the site works.
"It was becoming very discouraging."
Jackie was spending hours every day for over a month trying to get an appointment, checking individual websites, spending hours on hold with clinics-with no luck - until a friend told her about covidwa.com
"The first time I tried there was just waitlists, but then the next morning there was lots of places to get an appointment - and I just had my shot today!"
Jackie says her appreciation for the site is endless.
"It was a huge relief just to know I had an appointment."
The website has been up and running for one week and with 80 volunteers, the site covers locations for all of Washington state.
The website is free and everyone involved is a volunteer. No one makes a dime off it.
Morris says spending free time to try to help vulnerable people protect themselves during a pandemic is a no brainer for him and his team.
"In this instance there just happened to be a problem that technology could solve."
The health department tells us they recognize the difficultly people are having getting appointments for vaccine, due to the low supply and high demand, so they are thrilled there is a website to make the process easier for people.
They’re so pleased with the work of the volunteers, they’ve begun collaborating with them and are excited for the partnership.
Volunteers say they’re particularly concerned about seniors in low-income areas who don’t have access to a computer.
They’re hoping to spread the word to as many people as possible, who can use their site to help get more appointments for more people who need them most.