The first two months of the COVID-19 vaccination campaign have been chaotic: local health departments and hospitals are struggling put the limited shots they have available in arms, and people eligible for those shots are often frustrated by buggy sign-up websites. Older adults, in particular, are having trouble with online tools.
In New York City, one of the main pain points is that everything is fractured. Multiple different groups — including the city, the state, and various hospital groups — are distributing the vaccine across dozens of sites. That leaves New Yorkers juggling multiple registration websites as they search for open slots
After experiencing the frustration of jumping from site to site to site firsthand, software developer Dan Benamy reached out to some friends and colleagues to start building a platform to pull every open vaccine appointment into one, easy-to-use site. Right now, it pulls in vaccine appointments from around 40 locations.
“We just saw a place that we could help,” Benamy says. The Verge spoke with Benamy and Michael Kuznetsov, another volunteer, about the website and the goal of making vaccine appointment sign-ups a little bit easier.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
How did this project get started?
Benamy: When they opened up vaccination slots to older folks, my grandparents qualified. I went online to try and figure it all out. New York City has this nice site that lists all the places where you can get vaccines, but you have to check each location individually to see if there’s any availability. I thought that there was an opportunity to aggregate some of this information. I reached out to a couple of folks I knew initially, and we started building this very quickly. Other folks started coming in on the effort — developers, designers, other people.
Once you had the idea and started connecting with other folks, how long did it take to get things up and running?
Benamy: There’s been a lot a lot of late nights, but I think it was two or three days after we started there was something we were showing friends and family. Then, several days later, it was still very minimal but we felt like it added enough value to be worth sharing. We’ve been iterating on it every day, adding in more data, improving the data, and making it easier to use.
Do you have any plans to partner with the city, or any other officials on the project?
Benamy: If there’s something that we could do that would that would be helpful to the city, or if there’s somebody who has a data feed about vaccine availability that they’d be interested in us adding to the site, we’d love to do that. Whatever opportunity we have to help, we’re happy to do.
Have you heard from people who have used the site to set up their vaccination appointments?
Benamy: We have a little feedback form on the site, and we’ve definitely had a stream of folks saying how helpful it was that there was something like this to use for vaccine appointments. And we know that the page has been viewed tens of thousands of times in the past few weeks.
Kuznetsov: One nice story there is that one of the volunteers that joined our effort this week, actually joined because he used the website to help find his grandfather a vaccine.
One of problems with the vaccine rollout has been that many websites and online sign-up forms aren’t easily accessible for people who aren’t tech savvy. Is that something the team thinks about when building your site?
Benamy: There’s a real focus on simplicity on the site. You don’t need to navigate around, you can just go to nycvaccinelist.com, and if there’s any availability it just shows it immediately on your screen. We want to try and make it accessible to folks that may be more or less sophisticated. We’d be open to including other languages also — anything that can connect people with vaccines. I’ll just be incremental improvements.
What are your next steps for the site?
Benamy: The top priority right now is getting more information into the site. The more places that we can aggregate vaccine availability from, the easier it will be for people to find vaccines, and that’s really all that matters. We’re continuing to build more tools to pull in information from other sites.
We already have information on appointments in the greater metro area, and Long Island, and another next step is to keep filling in more appointments in the surrounding area.
What was it like to come in and fill a need like this?
Benamy: The tools are out there to let people do amazing things, and we thought that if there was at least a chance we could help, we’d give it a shot.
Kuznetsov: If there’s even one life saved because somebody got a shot who wouldn’t have gotten it — that’s lit a fire under our seats as we go and do this every day. I’ve heard a couple of people say that if six months go by and this thing doesn’t matter anymore because the systems built by other people are great, and everyone’s been vaccinated — that’s a win for us.