How This New Yorker Created a $ 50 Vaccine Dating Website

Huge Ma, a 31-year-old software engineer for Airbnb, was stunned when he tried to make an appointment for the coronavirus vaccine for his mother in early January and saw that there was dozen of websites to check, each with its own registration protocol. The city and state the appointment systems were completely separate.

“There has to be a better way,” he said, remembering thinking.

So he developed one. In less than two weeks he launched TurboVax, a free website that compiles the availability of the three major immunization systems in New York City and State and sends real-time information to Twitter. It cost Mr. Ma less than $ 50 to build, but it offers an easier way to track appointments than official city and state systems.

“It kind of became a challenge for me to prove what a person with time and a little bit of motivation can do,” he said last week. “It was not a priority for governments, which is unfortunate. But everyone has a role to play in the pandemic, and I’m just doing the little I can to make it a little easier. “

Supply shortages and problems accessing immunization appointments were some of the obstacles to equitable vaccine distribution in New York City and across the United States, officials acknowledged.

Statistics recently released by the city showed that the vaccine is distributed disproportionately to white New Yorkers, not the black and brown communities that suffered the most during the first wave of the pandemic.

Only 12 percent of the estimated 210,000 city dwellers over 65 who were vaccinated were blacks, for example, even though blacks make up 24% of the city’s population.

“The only way for them to access these dates is to use a very, very complicated technological platform that in itself marginalizes the community of seniors that I serve,” Eboné Carrington, director, said at the end. General of Harlem Hospital. last month. As a result, she said, whites outside Harlem occupied most of its available slots for weeks.

Thus, volunteers in New York, as well as in states like Texas, California and Massachusetts, tried to use their technological skills to simplify this process.

Jeremy Novich, 35, a clinical psychologist on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, began reaching out to seniors after realizing his own older parents couldn’t have made an appointment on their own.

“The system is designed to be a technology race between 25 and 85 years old,” he said. “It’s not a race, it’s elder neglect.”

With two friends, he launched on January 12 the Vaccine appointment support team, a person-to-person effort that began by helping older people in local synagogues and has expanded to help those who sign up through a phone hotline or web form. Due to high demand, the service – which now has 20 volunteer social workers – has stopped taking new cases for now, and the founders are considering partnering with a non-profit organization to increase its capacity.

The city’s most ambitious online volunteer assistance effort is NYC Vaccine List, a website that compiles appointments from over 50 immunization sites – city, state and private. About 20 volunteers write the code, contact community organizations and call immunization centers directly to view the availability of centers.

Dan Benamy, software developer for Datadog and one of the founders of NYC Vaccine List, said when looking for dates for his grandparents last month, he was hit by the demand for labor. of the appointment system.

“I’m an engineer and an optimizer, so I was looking at this and I was saying maybe we could look at putting this data together and aggregating it, so that it’s faster and easier to find vaccines,” he said. he declares.

Mr. Benamy contacted a few friends and got to work. The site went live five days later on January 16.

Inspired by VaccinateCA, a volunteer-run vaccine research site in California, NYC Vaccine List not only lists available appointments in cities and states, but also allows users to click more directly on certain available appointment times, thus saving precious minutes in which a slot could go to someone else.

In its effectiveness, the site also offers real-time insight into the brutality of the appointment process. At 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 28, for example, hundreds of openings appeared, including 45 at the city’s Brooklyn Army Marine Terminal, and many more at a site run by the city of the Bronx. In 15 minutes they were gone.

These sites do not solve all access problems, as they still require computer knowledge and only benefit those who know them. As of February 8, the NYC Vaccine List was receiving about 16,000 visitors per day, which remains a fraction of the millions of qualified New Yorkers who need appointments, its founders said.

But by making the process more efficient, the sites are paving the way for hundreds of people struggling to find a niche. Their Twitter feed was flooded with messages of gratitude, and NYC Vaccine List has been named the city’s “most popular website” by Mark Levine, a city councilor. They recently added a Google translate feature to the site.

“As the number of volunteers increases and we put these building blocks in place, we would like to make them accessible to as many people as possible,” said Mr. Benamy, 36, who lives in Brooklyn.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has vowed to improve the appointment system, which he called “too cumbersome” at a recent press conference, and the city has modernized one of its main planning sites to be more user-friendly last week.

What to know about Covid-19 booster injections

The FDA has cleared booster shots for millions of recipients of Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Pfizer and Moderna beneficiaries who are eligible for a recall include people 65 years of age and older and young adults at high risk of severe Covid-19 due to medical conditions or their workplace. Eligible Pfizer and Moderna beneficiaries may receive a booster at least six months after their second dose. All Johnson & Johnson recipients will be eligible for a second injection at least two months after the first.

Yes. The FDA has updated its clearances to allow medical providers to boost people with a different vaccine than the one they originally received, a strategy known as “mix and match.” Whether you have received Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, or Pfizer-BioNTech, you may receive a booster of any other vaccine. Regulators have not recommended any vaccine over another as a booster. They have also remained silent on whether it is best to stick to the same vaccine when possible.

The CDC said the conditions that qualify a person for a booster shot include: hypertension and heart disease; diabetes or obesity; cancer or blood disorders; weakened immune system; chronic lung, kidney or liver disease; dementia and some disabilities. Pregnant women and current and former smokers are also eligible.

The FDA has cleared the boosters for workers whose work puts them at high risk of exposure to potentially infectious people. The CDC says this group includes: emergency medical workers; education workers; food and agricultural workers; manufacturing workers; correctional workers; workers in the US postal service; public transport workers; employees of grocery stores.

Yes. The CDC says the Covid vaccine can be given regardless of the timing of other vaccines, and many pharmacy websites allow people to schedule a flu shot along with a booster dose.

City and state also offer the option of planning over the phone. The state hotline recently added a special option for people aged 75 and over, as well as a callback service. But the operators of these hotlines make appointments in the same urban or public centers where most of the appointments are made by those using the web-based first-come, first-served system.

Software developers who peeked under the hood of some of the public programming sites were surprised at how messy it was there. Paul Schreiber, 42, a freelance software engineer in Brooklyn, said he was upset to find misspellings and other errors in the code of the vaccination center managed during the first month by the city health service. The new website which launched on February 1, he said, looked “substantially better.”

“Even rating on a very generous curve – well, it’s a government website, it’s not – that was really bad,” he said.

Mr Schreiber did some preliminary work on building his own dating site and was looking at how he could incorporate the updates into the city-run site.

Some of the technological help came by pure chance.

Adriana Scamparini, 45, a business lawyer who lives in Manhattan’s Gramercy neighborhood, spent 18 hours trying to make an appointment with her father. After doing so, she realized that a password she had used for a dating site was saved on her phone, allowing her to bypass a public page that incorrectly stated that no appointment was not available.

She began to contact her friends, family and her porter to see if they knew of any elderly people who needed help. She created email addresses for those who didn’t. She printed out appointment forms and delivered them to people’s homes. She made about 30 appointments and personally accompanied seven people to a vaccination site in Lower Manhattan, mostly in the middle of the night when appointments were easier to get. For her efforts, she received tears of gratitude, cards and flowers.

“I don’t have a computer and I don’t have Wi-Fi,” said Mariley Carlota, a widow from Brazil who lives alone on the Upper East Side. She got her first injection at 4:30 a.m. on January 19 thanks to Ms Scamparini. “She was like an angel to me.”

Mrs. Carlota had been afraid to go to the doctor and go shopping. Now she is planning her colonoscopy, endoscopy and physiotherapy for February. She cries that she will soon be able to return to her church and her friends there.

“It’s like I won the lottery,” she said.

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