San Diegan Creates Twitter Bot to Help Find Open Vaccine Appointments

A San Diego native used his tech background and created a bot that scans websites and notifies people when COVID-19 vaccine appointments open up

NBC Universal, Inc.

Whether it’s supply shortfalls, which can’t be controlled locally, or simply getting an appointment, San Diegans have faced a lot of issues trying to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Retired professor Dr. Robin Beers, P.HD. has been trying to get a vaccine appointment for more than a week. Beers, 59, spends several hours a day, every day, refreshing the numerous web pages for clinics, healthcare providers, the county and the city.

“Fill out all their forms, all their questionnaires, only to be told over and over and over again, 'nope no appointments, but check back later,'” Beers said. "Being eligible means absolutely nothing if you can’t find a person to put the darn thing in your arm.”

Beers has epilepsy, and if she were to contract COVID-19, it could lead to status epilepticus, a potentially fatal, never-ending seizure, according to Beers.

Thousands of miles away in New York, a Google User Experience Designer, Andre Le is just as frustrated with San Diego's process. He's been trying to help his mom find an appointment.

“It was driving me nuts and that was just one family member and I have my entire family in San Diego,” said Le.

Le found his own appointment in New York thanks to a software engineer that created a bot on Twitter. The bot scans websites like a human would and alerts people when, where and how many vaccine appointments open up at various sites.

Le created one for the San Diego area called @covaxsd. He learned how to write the code needed for the bot. In less than two weeks it has garnered at least 5,000 followers.

“It’s been really great to see all the people that I’ve been able to help and hear their stories,” said Le.

Le told NBC 7 there are so many changes local governments can make to the system that can streamline the appointment process, the end goal being to notify people with real-time information when there’s availability.

“Technology won’t solve everything. But where it can, I think it can make a big difference,” said Le.

A couple other suggestions he has for local governments, clinics or public health officials making decisions and/or designing the different portals and processes:

“Move your availability out front. Don’t make people fill out a form.”

Le also suggested, “Make your data and your information clean and structured. Give people access to what’s called an API, an application programming interface  that allows bots and other systems to integrate better.”

Technology can’t necessarily fix the supply and demand problem local governments face, but it can help streamline the process for people willing to try anything.

There are additional bots on Twitter, too, like @covidvaccinesd, which monitors the California Public Health Department's MyTurn vaccine site.

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