MyTurn vaccination site

Bots Not Welcome: Online Tool to Help Book COVID Vaccine Appointments No Longer Works

State Public Health Department says MyTurn site intentionally makes it difficult for computers to automate booking process

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An innovative online tool that helped make it easier to book COVID-19 vaccination appointments is no longer working now that the state has moved to the MyTurn vaccination appointment system.

San Diegan Andre Le, a Google user-experience designer, developed a so-called bot -- essentially a computer program that acts like a human to navigate websites -- to access the previous appointment system, CalVax, then find and alerted people about available vaccine appointments.

In less than three weeks, Le said, there were 10,000 followers on the Twitter bot site @CovaxSD.

“Pretty much every report that I get back about people getting an appointment is something along the lines of, ‘I’ve been looking for two weeks, for four weeks. I’ve been really frustrated, I’ve been crying my eyes out, and within an hour of following your bot, I’ve been able to find an appointment,’” Le said.

In fact, its easy to find posts from people who were able to use the bot to secure appointments:

  • “Seriously, thank you. I got my first vaccine today because of you,” tweeted @Theflee08.
  • “I had been trying to find something for the past four weeks, and, thanks to you, I was able to schedule an appointment,” tweeted @monicap1.
NBC 7's Jackie Crea heard from the bot's creator, and from an at-risk woman having trouble getting a vaccine appointment.

But the bot stopped working on Monday, Le said.

“Right now, our bots are not able to surface information, very valuable information, about when to come back to the site and check,” Le said.

Le half-suspected the MyTurn site would not be receptive to a bot. And he was right.

“MyTurn was designed for real Californians to make vaccine appointments and intentionally makes it hard for computers to automate the booking process,” said Darrel Ng, senior communications advisor for the state COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force. "Thus far, 2 million appointments have been booked and completed through the system."

For his part, Le said, the MyTurn website is complicated and difficult to navigate.

“The ultimate goal is they make a user-friendly site," Le said. "What we’re trying to do is make things a little bit easy to use, a little bit more user friendly."

Le said it was sort of like a game of cat and mouse.

"It’s a lot of, We don’t know what is the right thing to do, and we just have to keep trying different things, just like people do, and hopefully something works,” Le said.

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