When New York City began distributing Covid-19 vaccines, senior residents eagerly started trying to make appointments to receive one. Unfortunately, the registration websites were glitchy and confusing, especially for older citizens with limited tech skills. Even Huge Ma, a 31-year-old software engineer for Airbnb, had trouble navigating the dozens of websites with different signup protocols when he went to register his mother for a vaccine. Frustrated with the process and concerned for older residents without younger relatives to help them navigate the site, Ma simply built a new one.
In just two weeks, Ma launched TurboVax, a free site that collects all vaccine availability from three major cities and state New York vaccine systems. It also sends the information in real-time to Twitter. It cost Ma less than $50 to make the site, but it’s incredibly reliable and convenient.
Ma isn’t the first New Yorker to build a new registration system to lend a hand to members of the community in need. One online volunteer site, NYC Vaccine List, relies on 20 individuals to compile appointments from more than 50 vaccination sites throughout the city and post the centers’ availability. The site is currently seeing about 16,000 visitors a day.
Another resource, the Vaccine Appointment Assistance Team, allows eligible residents to call in if they are having trouble making an appointment and the team will scour registration sites to find them a slot and get them registered. It’s great for residents with minimal internet access or online dexterity.
One of the primary issues with vaccine rollout is equity in distribution. Many eligible individuals, especially those with limited tech skills or access to online services, are being left out of the process. Despite efforts to improve vaccine equity with government-run call-in registration, only 12 percent of vaccinated New Yorkers over 65 are Black even though this demographic makes up 24 percent of the city’s population.
Not everyone stepping up are tech geniuses and programmers. Adriana Scamparini, a local corporate lawyer, started advertising her vaccine locating services to neighbors, friends, and family members after it took her 18 hours on the phone to make her own father an appointment. So far she has made 30 appointments for seniors in her community and even accompanied some of them to vaccination sites.
The covid-19 vaccine rollout is by far the most ambitious ever undertaken, so it has understandably been a learning process for local and state governments. Fortunately, passionate citizens are stepping up to fill the gaps where the systems fall short. Ma told the New York Times, “Everyone has a role to play in the pandemic, and I’m just doing the very little that I can to make it a little bit easier.”