Enlarge /. A registered nurse holds up a sign and flag and tells another patient to dose the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine and other doses of vaccine at a vaccination site in Seattle, Washington on January 24, 2021.
To help Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is tacitly working on a new website that will allow people to see every place in their community that has COVID-19 19 vaccinations are offered locations has for the current day and provide links for setting up vaccination appointments.
At least that is the ideal; There is a lot to do to get there.
Currently, the website – pharmacfinder.org – only contains full lists of vaccine providers for four states – Alaska, Indiana, Iowa, and Tennessee. These lists include providers in hospitals, clinics, public health centers, doctor's offices, drug stores, and food pharmacies.
For the rest of the country, the VaccineFinder website has an incomplete list of vendors who get vaccines directly from the federal government.
John Brownstein, founder and chief information officer of VaccineFinder at Boston Children's Hospital, told NPR that "more vaccine providers are expected to join more states in the coming days and weeks."
In the meantime, Brownstein and others will be working out the kinks in the website and testing how it can hold up with heavy traffic. Similar sites set up by volunteers and individual states have been inundated with people searching for the coveted vaccines. With vaccine eligibility far exceeding vaccine supply, the pursuit of scarce doses has resulted in frustrating glitches and crashes at the few pre-existing vaccination registration points. Such was the case with the Massachusetts VaxFinder site, which crashed last week after about a million residents newly eligible for a COVID shot and quickly signed up.
The CDC's VaccineFinder website aims to evade that fate and be a central, streamlined resource for people wanting to sign up for their shot.
Work to do
"The idea is to show where COVID-19 vaccine providers are [are] available to the public – how to contact them, how to book an appointment and try to see the daily inventory status so it is clear where and where vaccines are available doesn't exist, "said Brownstein.
Brownstein and his team have a decent history with it. The website, which grew out of a collaboration between the CDC, Boston Children's Hospital and recently sub-contractor CastLight, dates back to the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. Since then, the website has acted as a resource for people looking for all types of vaccinations. including seasonal flu shots
Achieving this goal for COVID-19, however, will require more than just having more vaccine providers and states available online. Users must continue to adhere to country-specific rules and procedures for authorization, registration, waiting lists and appointments. The website also relies on vendors to accurately and consistently report how much inventory they have every 24 hours. There are reportedly more than 110,000 vendors in 64 US jurisdictions. Currently only about 29,000 providers are connected to the CDC's VaccineFinder.
Still, Brownstein is optimistic and ambitious about the future of the locations. He added that once the sites are fully functional, they want to share data with third parties so that users can find the sites' vaccine availability data on sites like Google Maps and Waze. "So it's not just about getting on the site, it's about meeting consumers where they are and making sure anyone looking for a vaccine knows where to find it," he said.
All of these skills need to be developed quickly as the pace of vaccine distribution and vaccination is expected to accelerate. Earlier this month, US President Joe Biden announced new deals with Pfizer and Moderna for an additional 200 million doses of vaccine through July. In addition to earlier deals and expedited supply agreements, the country is on track to vaccinate 300 million Americans – 600 million doses – by the end of July, which is only months away.