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The website, called Vaccine Finder, is run by Boston Children’s Hospital with the help of several collaborators. It grew out of the H1N1 flu pandemic of 2009 and has been used for years to coordinate the distribution of flu and childhood vaccines. It expanded Wednesday to include the availability of coronavirus vaccines in several states.
If the program goes well, the website’s developers plan to expand it nationwide in coming weeks to include nearly all vaccine providers that agree to be featured. That would make the website far more comprehensive than anything that exists now.
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“We’re trying to create a trusted site and bring some order to all this chaos and confusion around availability,” said John Brownstein, a Boston Children’s Hospital researcher who runs VaccineFinder.Org.
The project is not a panacea. It will not enable people to book appointments; it simply directs people to other portals where they can try to register to get vaccinated.
Nor does the website address the key constraints — most notably the limited supply of vaccine doses — that are preventing more people from quickly getting shots. And there is a risk that the addition of yet another vaccine website will only exacerbate the current confusion.
“It’s not a tool that’s going to necessarily make things easier for people to get the vaccine,” said Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers. “They’re going to see where vaccine is, but they’re still going to have challenges trying to get an appointment.”
After a rocky start, the vaccination campaign in the United States has accelerated in recent weeks. Seventeen percent of adults have received a first dose, and 7.6% are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. That puts the government well on the way to fulfilling President Joe Biden’s promise that at least 100 million vaccine doses would be administered in the United States by his 100th day in office; he has since raised that target to 150 million doses.
Despite the progress, though, getting appointments for vaccinations has been a source of great frustration for many people. Appointment slots are filled within minutes of becoming available. States, local health departments and pharmacy chains have their own sign-up websites that in many cases do not share data with one another. The CDC has its own vaccine administration management system, or VAMS, which some states are using to have people register for vaccinations and to collect essential data, but state officials have complained that it is clunky.
Exasperated people have taken matters into their own hands, creating online navigator tools and “vaccine hunter” Facebook groups in cities like Los Angeles and New Orleans to help connect people with available doses.