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Frustrated by searching for COVID-19 vaccination appointments? Bay Area vaccine hunters are here to help

An employee of a Mountain View-based company are among those leading the grassroots effort

CVS pharmacists give the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to Channing House residents at the retirement community in Palo Alto on Dec. 28. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Faced with endless frustration and fruitless searches for COVID-19 vaccine appointments, Bay Area residents have launched a grassroots effort to help one another sign up for the vaccine and get immunized — all without having to camp out in front of a computer all day.

The Facebook group Bay Area vaccine hunters has been a hub for residents in search of the COVID-19 vaccine, who trade tips, workarounds and other tools to get an appointment when they become available. Leaders of the Facebook group say vaccine providers have made it difficult to get the shot, and that it falls to the community to help one another.

Mukesh Aggarwal. Courtesy Mukesh Aggarwal.

One member of the group is Mukesh Aggarwal, who said his story is all too common. His father is older and has conditions that put him at high-risk of getting severely ill and dying from COVID-19, but getting him an appointment was an exhausting chore. Each provider has its own website that must be checked periodically throughout the day for available appointments, and some are designed to make people sign up only to later reveal no vaccines were available.

"Most of them are set up in a way where you have to enter all your personal information over two or three pages, and after that they tell you whether there is an appointment or not," Aggarwal said. "All of that work is completely wasted if there isn't."

Aggarwal joined the Bay Area vaccine hunters, and has since developed his own workaround: A program that automatically checks more than 100 vaccine sites across the Bay Area, scraping data once per hour to ping people when appointments are available. It's done through an app called Telegram, and searches everything from private pharmacies like Rite-Aid and Walgreens to public vaccination sites like the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

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As of Monday, there were 3,000 people using the program and 200 more joining each day.

A screenshot shows alerts for available vaccine appointments gathered by members of Bay Area Vaccine Hunters and sent through the Telegram app. Courtesy Mukesh Aggarwal.

It's unreasonable to expect people to sit hunched in front of a computer all day constantly refreshing web pages in search of the vaccine, Aggarwal said, but people are desperate to protect themselves and loved ones from the virus. Yet the alternative — using California's "My Turn" sign-up system — is practically useless, he said. Nobody he has ever signed up through My Turn has ever received a notification.

Underscoring the desperation, Aggarwal said people who do score an appointment are willing to travel anywhere in the greater Bay Area and beyond to get the shot.

"There are so many people who are ready to go at a moment's notice to get the vaccine, and are willing to drive to Sacramento to get it," he said. "A lot of people have lost their loved ones and they know that this is serious, especially for folks who are high risk."

Since vaccinations began in December, roughly 500,000 people in Santa Clara County have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, including over half of all those age 65 and older. About 10,000 of those immunized have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one dose.

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Vaccination rates are higher in San Mateo County, which has vaccinated 235,000 people — more than one-third of all residents age 16 and older — and administered over 355,000 shots.

Despite the progress, state and county health officials say there remains a severe vaccine supply shortage, and that the unpredictable allocations from week to week make it difficult for providers to plan ahead for appointments. The mix of high demand and short turnaround means available appointments are published online and quickly snatched up, creating the dynamic that Aggarwal says is driving people to find workarounds.

Aggarwal, who works for Intuit in Mountain View, said his program is a work in progress, and must constantly be updated as vaccine providers change their websites — some even putting up barriers to keep it from working. It takes a lot of work, but he said it's worth it to hear people are finally able to get an appointment and protected themselves and others.

It's free to use, but he said anyone who gets an appointment through his program is encouraged to pay it forward and help others — particularly those who may not be tech savvy or have access to a computer.

"If you are able to get help from the app, reach out to underprivileged people and help them get the vaccine too," he said.

Anyone interested in signing up for the notifications can download the Telegram app for Android or iPhone. Users can then either search for BayAreaVaccineNotification in the app or click the link t.me/bayareavaccinenotification.

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

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Kevin Forestieri writes for the Mountain View Voice, a sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Frustrated by searching for COVID-19 vaccination appointments? Bay Area vaccine hunters are here to help

An employee of a Mountain View-based company are among those leading the grassroots effort

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Fri, Mar 26, 2021, 6:56 am

Faced with endless frustration and fruitless searches for COVID-19 vaccine appointments, Bay Area residents have launched a grassroots effort to help one another sign up for the vaccine and get immunized — all without having to camp out in front of a computer all day.

The Facebook group Bay Area vaccine hunters has been a hub for residents in search of the COVID-19 vaccine, who trade tips, workarounds and other tools to get an appointment when they become available. Leaders of the Facebook group say vaccine providers have made it difficult to get the shot, and that it falls to the community to help one another.

One member of the group is Mukesh Aggarwal, who said his story is all too common. His father is older and has conditions that put him at high-risk of getting severely ill and dying from COVID-19, but getting him an appointment was an exhausting chore. Each provider has its own website that must be checked periodically throughout the day for available appointments, and some are designed to make people sign up only to later reveal no vaccines were available.

"Most of them are set up in a way where you have to enter all your personal information over two or three pages, and after that they tell you whether there is an appointment or not," Aggarwal said. "All of that work is completely wasted if there isn't."

Aggarwal joined the Bay Area vaccine hunters, and has since developed his own workaround: A program that automatically checks more than 100 vaccine sites across the Bay Area, scraping data once per hour to ping people when appointments are available. It's done through an app called Telegram, and searches everything from private pharmacies like Rite-Aid and Walgreens to public vaccination sites like the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

As of Monday, there were 3,000 people using the program and 200 more joining each day.

It's unreasonable to expect people to sit hunched in front of a computer all day constantly refreshing web pages in search of the vaccine, Aggarwal said, but people are desperate to protect themselves and loved ones from the virus. Yet the alternative — using California's "My Turn" sign-up system — is practically useless, he said. Nobody he has ever signed up through My Turn has ever received a notification.

Underscoring the desperation, Aggarwal said people who do score an appointment are willing to travel anywhere in the greater Bay Area and beyond to get the shot.

"There are so many people who are ready to go at a moment's notice to get the vaccine, and are willing to drive to Sacramento to get it," he said. "A lot of people have lost their loved ones and they know that this is serious, especially for folks who are high risk."

Since vaccinations began in December, roughly 500,000 people in Santa Clara County have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, including over half of all those age 65 and older. About 10,000 of those immunized have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one dose.

Vaccination rates are higher in San Mateo County, which has vaccinated 235,000 people — more than one-third of all residents age 16 and older — and administered over 355,000 shots.

Despite the progress, state and county health officials say there remains a severe vaccine supply shortage, and that the unpredictable allocations from week to week make it difficult for providers to plan ahead for appointments. The mix of high demand and short turnaround means available appointments are published online and quickly snatched up, creating the dynamic that Aggarwal says is driving people to find workarounds.

Aggarwal, who works for Intuit in Mountain View, said his program is a work in progress, and must constantly be updated as vaccine providers change their websites — some even putting up barriers to keep it from working. It takes a lot of work, but he said it's worth it to hear people are finally able to get an appointment and protected themselves and others.

It's free to use, but he said anyone who gets an appointment through his program is encouraged to pay it forward and help others — particularly those who may not be tech savvy or have access to a computer.

"If you are able to get help from the app, reach out to underprivileged people and help them get the vaccine too," he said.

Anyone interested in signing up for the notifications can download the Telegram app for Android or iPhone. Users can then either search for BayAreaVaccineNotification in the app or click the link t.me/bayareavaccinenotification.

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

Kevin Forestieri writes for the Mountain View Voice, a sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

Comments

merry
Registered user
Palo Alto Hills
on Mar 26, 2021 at 9:19 am
merry, Palo Alto Hills
Registered user
on Mar 26, 2021 at 9:19 am

Why is it all so complicated?


Karen Gibson
Registered user
Barron Park
on Mar 26, 2021 at 11:06 am
Karen Gibson, Barron Park
Registered user
on Mar 26, 2021 at 11:06 am

I'm a bit confused by the app. According to this story you won't have to enter all your information just to find out there's no appt available. I downloaded the app, and clicked on the latest post which happens to be RiteAid in SJ right now. Well it then required me to enter all my info, just to say that there are no available appts. So how is this different?


chini
Registered user
Midtown
on Mar 27, 2021 at 8:38 am
chini, Midtown
Registered user
on Mar 27, 2021 at 8:38 am

>> using California's "My Turn" sign-up system — is practically useless

Instead of addressing the core problem, drawing attention to the mismanagement of public health policies, I find it irresponsible for reputable media to highlight these "medical practice vigilantism" that could jeopardize people's health, compromise HIPAA, sidestep accountability etc. It is these arbitrary folks meddling with such as important health matter that makes one hesitate to take up these vaccines - do you think your personal doctor does not care about you to advise to go hunt for vaccines?

I find it irresponsible for these 15-minutes of fame seeking "apps". Please focus on addressing the root causes.


Alex
Registered user
Barron Park
on Mar 27, 2021 at 8:47 pm
Alex, Barron Park
Registered user
on Mar 27, 2021 at 8:47 pm

Absolutely useless. 90% of the notifications are for places like Stockton, Modesto, or Albany. And for the ones that ARE in or near Santa Clara county, you get to put in all of your information into the website just to be told there's nothing available. What a waste of time.


chini
Registered user
Midtown
on Mar 28, 2021 at 8:28 am
chini, Midtown
Registered user
on Mar 28, 2021 at 8:28 am

>> Absolutely useless...you get to put in all of your information into the website

Anyone who can write an app to collect user data now does it...And for the media to play up these stories - Scott Budman on NBC touted hunting for vaccines - shows a lack of commonsense. Should vaccines be directed to where people need them or should people be sent to places of vaccines? They treat it as if you are shopping for a Tickle-me-Elmo Christmas gift!


The Real Slim K
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Mar 28, 2021 at 10:33 am
The Real Slim K, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Mar 28, 2021 at 10:33 am

I can only theorize that the people who rule Santa Clara County want the lock down to last forever. There is a sizable portion of the population who elected them (perhaps?) who still angrily shout down those "murderers" who are against locking down forever. Read today about some people who like the laziness of being home all the time in their PJ's and are anxious and depressed that it may be ending. So, it's rather easy for the click-bait pretend journalism to rope these people in by promoting the idea that being in your PJ's wearing masks at home and never traveling forever, is holy and moral, and those who want to open things up, evil and Trump-like. Way to go, Santa Clara County! PS: the real reason you put in all your private info. is so they can sell it to abusive spammers for cash.


Anonymous
Registered user
Fairmeadow
on Apr 1, 2021 at 8:01 am
Anonymous, Fairmeadow
Registered user
on Apr 1, 2021 at 8:01 am

I don't know why anyone is complaining about "medical vigilantism". When there is a crazy system where the vaccine doses show up at unpredictable times and unpredictable places, what the hell is a person supposed to do? I have spent hours monitoring the Sutter website (for I use PAMF) with no success, unless I am willing to travel as far as Modesto, Sacramento or Yuba City. But through the Telegram channel mentioned in the article I was able to schedule an appointment at a Walmart at Martinez. Not close, but sure a lot closer than Modesto or Sacramento.


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