Huge Ma, a 31-year-old software engineer for Airbnb, was stunned when he tried to make a coronavirus vaccine appointment for his mother in early January and saw that there were dozens of websites to check, each with its own sign-up protocol. The city and state appointment systems were completely distinct.
“There has to be a better way,” he said he remembered thinking.
So he developed one. In less than two weeks, he made TurboVax, a free website that compiles availability from the three main city and state New York vaccine systems and sends the information in real time to Twitter. It cost Mr. Ma less than $50 to build, yet it offers an easier way to spot appointments than the city and state’s official systems do.
Supply shortages and problems with access to vaccination appointments have been some of the barriers to the equitable distribution of the vaccine in New York City and across the United States, officials have acknowledged.
Statistics recently released by the city showed that the vaccines are flowing disproportionately to white New Yorkers, not the Black and brown communities that suffered the most in the pandemic’s first wave.
The disparities were particularly striking among city residents ages 65 and up: Only 12 percent of the roughly 210,000 city residents in that age group who were vaccinated were Black, for example, even though Black people make up 24 percent of the city’s population.
“The only way they are able to access those appointments is to use a very, very complicated tech platform that in and of itself marginalizes the elderly community that I serve,” Eboné Carrington, the chief executive of Harlem Hospital, said last month.
So some volunteers in New York, as well as in Texas, California and Massachusetts, have tried to use their technological skills to simplify that process.
The most ambitious online volunteer assistance effort in New York City is NYC Vaccine List, a website that compiles appointments from more than 50 vaccination sites — city, state and private. About 20 volunteers write code, reach out to community organizations and call inoculation centers to post the centers’ availabilities.
Inspired by VaccinateCA, a volunteer-run vaccine finder site in California, NYC Vaccine List not only lists available city and state appointments, but also allows users to click through to some available appointment times.
The site is also offering a glimpse at how competitive the appointment process can be. At 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 28, for example, hundreds of openings popped up, including 45 at the city’s Brooklyn Army Marine Terminal, and many more at a city-run site in the Bronx. Within 15 minutes, they were gone.
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