BUCKS COUNTY, Pa. — Limited vaccine supply has made the vaccine appointment process a frustration for many people in Pennsylvania.
Some people have spent hours online searching for available appointments and/or calling providers to get the coveted shot.
A group of students from PA are trying to reduce the stress and help people find the latest information on vaccine availability.
They have teamed up to create the VaccinatePa.org website.
What started as just five people collecting data from vaccine providers has turned into dozens of "good samaritans" calling pharmacies, hospitals, and health systems frequently over the course of a given week.
The students train volunteers to ask providers some of the most asked questions such as: Does the provider have vaccine available? Is there a wait list? How can I make an appointment?
"Is it possible to book an appointment? Is it possible to join a wait list, and how is it possible to do that?" added Seth Rubinstein, cofounder of the website.
The founders say they are not making money from the website. In fact, they've spent only a few dollars to get it up and running.
"We have spent 8$, 8 bucks, so far in budget. That was to set up the website," explained Rubinstein. "It's really just a group of people trying to help who have banded together."
With the vaccine rollout rapidly and constantly evolving, the students believe Pennsylvanians lack clarity on where, when, and how to get the vaccine.
By centralizing information on the website, they believe they help eligible Pennsylvanians save time. By calling providers and publishing the latest information, the students say they ease the load on phone systems at the hospitals, pharmacies and other facilities which are being inundated with duplicative phone calls from residents asking the same question: Can you give me a vaccine?
"We have had hundreds of people write in and tell us that we helped them find a vaccine," said Richie Goulazian, an undergraduate student who is studying computer science. "It feels great. It's kind of surreal cause every day at my desk I sit at my desk and somehow I'm impacting people across Pennsylvania."
The website is updated daily and features county-by-county information. People can see if there are appointments available, the last time a provider has received an allotment of doses, if patients should call or signup online, the provider's current website and address, and more.
"If people watching this are interested in any time capacity, it's really easy to come on board," added Rubinstein.
The work is being done thanks to a (growing) team of volunteers, which includes students, professionals, and senior citizens. The students say they are always looking for extra help. People can contribute to the information collecting effort by signing up to be a volunteer here.
According to the website's creators, more than 130,000 people visited VaccinatePA.org last week alone.
A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Health commented on the website via email. The statement reads:
"The Department of Health is laser-focused on working with trusted local providers to get vaccine in arms as quickly as it is available from the federal government. It appears that Vaccinate PA has the same goal in mind. The department will continue to keep the map of trusted local vaccine providers as updated as possible. As more vaccine becomes available in the future it will be easier to schedule vaccination appoints. Meanwhile, we encourage people to continue the proven mitigation efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by wearing a mask, washing hands and maintaining social distance."