Vaccine tips and tricks: startup helps Americans find a solution

Six weeks ago, Diana Rastegayeva began emailing friends and family with advice on navigating the patchwork of state, local and private providers offering coronavirus vaccine appointments.

Rastegayeva, who works for a pharmaceutical company, has now turned his email into a website, becoming one of the many experts helping eligible Americans navigate the country’s labyrinthine and highly localized vaccine distribution process. Her advice is as simple as knowing when pharmacies post new appointments to make sure someone has set up autofill to make it easier to complete online registration forms.

But while Rastegayeva has managed to secure 1,250 appointments for people in her home state of Massachusetts, she shares the concern of many experts that the doses are not going to those who need them most, but rather to those who know how to operate the system.

“This system is not really good for anyone – the government should do it,” she told the Financial Times. “It is the embodiment of American individualism.”

United States has now delivered first doses of a vaccine against the coronavirus to 21% of its adult population, making it the sixth fastest Covid-19 vaccination program around the world. The country administered a record 2.9 million shots on Saturday, the White House said on Monday.

But the rollout has been spotty, with states, local health departments, individual clinics, and private drugstore chains all running their own systems. On top of that, many states now allow anyone with an underlying illness to claim a vaccine – a group that may explain up to 60 percent Population.

So many people are now eligible for so few doses that people are doing all they can to get some highly sought after dates. Some are stand in line for 12 hours outside supermarkets to secure unclaimed vaccines; others use networks of friendly pharmacists and nurses to find out when appointments become available; some monitor registration websites throughout the day and night.

Farm workers line up to receive the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department in Gilroy, Calif. © Bloomberg

As a result, those who are best able to navigate the different registration systems seem to get the better shot.

A recent Financial Times Analysis of the five major metropolitan areas showed that richer, whiter neighborhoods had much higher vaccination rates than poorer and minority neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, older Americans received a much lower proportion of vaccines than in the UK, for example. Although more than 90 percent of people aged 75 and over in Britain have received a vaccine, this figure is closer to 70 percent in the USA.

“If you run this fragmented Ticketmaster-style rush, how is a 92-year-old who doesn’t know how to use the internet supposed to navigate it?” said Kris Slevens, a computer engineer from New Jersey who helps seniors sign up for dates.

The gaps worry many experts who have called on the United States to do more to ensure those hardest hit by Covid-19 receive the first vaccines.

Helene Gayle, who chaired a committee tasked by the government to recommend guidelines for vaccine prioritization, said: “It will be important for public health systems to continue or accelerate the focus on equity. Without it, we not only risk further unequal access issues, but reinforce mistrust of a system that, once again, does not respond to the greatest risks. “

Boxes of Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 Janssen vaccines are placed in a locked refrigerator at a Boston medical center © AFP via Getty Images

In their quest for a vaccine, many people rely on contacts to help them get a dose.

Scott Michelson, who works in the healthcare industry in Washington DC but does not treat patients, was not eligible for a vaccine as part of the first phase of the city’s rollout. However, he was able to get a dose after a friend working in an institutional care setting told him they were about to throw away doses near their expiration date.

“She texted me that day and I was due to be there in a few hours,” he said. “But if I hadn’t claimed it, it would have been dumped, which would have been terrible.”

Some private companies also help their clients get vaccinated. Abe Malkin, medical director of elite Concierge MD medical practice, said he had been inundated with requests from clients to help them book an appointment for a vaccine.

“We don’t make the appointments themselves, but we are able to help people with the registration process,” he said.

Concierge MD does not charge people to help them get vaccinated, but others do. Slevens banned dozens of people from his Facebook group for trying to charge fees of up to $ 250 to help people get dates.

Slevens is among the few people across the country who are now volunteering their time to ensure more have access to technical expertise.

One of the best ways to get an appointment, he says, is to pre-populate your details in a pharmacy registration website, then come back early in the morning, ready to click “confirm.” »As soon as new appointments are made available.

Rastegayeva said her best advice is to simply have as many browser windows open on as many devices as possible. “Everyone is a different lottery ticket,” she said. Demand for her services has been so high that she has recruited 300 volunteers and now has her own eligibility criteria, prioritizing those over 75, non-English speakers and ethnic minorities.

Others were also inundated after sharing their advice.

Nick Muerdter, software engineer at the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory, says he now spends most of his time working on his website, which shows people where there are pharmacy vaccination appointments across the country. . His bosses even allowed him to develop it during work after realizing that he could help free co-workers, many of whom spent a lot of time trying to find dates for themselves or their loved ones.

“I try to get the updates out as quickly as possible,” he said. “I just despair that we get enough doses quickly that there is no more demand for my website.”

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