Nearly all Iowans are currently eligible for COVID-19 vaccination, and starting April 5, literally all adult Iowans will be, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Wednesday.
But determining if you’re eligible and locating vaccine providers near you aren’t the biggest hurdles to actually getting the jab. Scheduling an appointment is.
Gov. Kim Reynolds and her administration chose to scrap plans for a central online scheduling tool for the state in February, just two weeks after announcing their intensions to build this “one-stop shop.” Instead, the state has launched an information site, vaccinate.iowa.gov, with links to vaccine providers but no scheduling service, as well as a 211 call center to assist Iowans 65 and older with scheduling an appointment.
In the absence of a scheduling resource for all Iowans who qualify for COVID-19 vaccination, one Iowa City web developer got creative.
The @IAVaccineAlerts Twitter account, created by University of Iowa Information Technology Services employee Brian Finley, is perhaps the most efficient vaccine scheduling aid in Iowa. Finley automated the account to tweet whenever a retail vaccine site (specifically, Hy-Vee, Walgreens and CVS pharmacies across the state) has available appointments. Each tweet includes the name of the pharmacy, where it’s located and the date and time in which the appointment(s) opened up.
The openings can be fleeting, but each tweet is another opportunity for an Iowan to nab a spot — a scrappy sort of process familiar to those who have tried to score tickets online to a popular concert or musical.
For example, a vaccine-eligible Coralville resident following @IAVaccineAlerts — and who clicked the bell button in order to get a notification whenever the account tweets — might be alerted to available appointments at a Hy-Vee pharmacy in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Burlington, Davenport or another city she deems close enough to travel to. She need only visit Hy-Vee’s vaccine page, type in the city or zip code from the tweet, fill out the online informed consent form (a process that takes around two to five minutes, and requires you to have your health insurance and/or Medicare card on hand) and, if there are still timeslots open when she’s done, claim one.
Finley told the Gazette that @IAVaccineAlerts “felt like the obvious solution” to many of the problems Iowans face when it comes to scheduling their vaccination.
“I’m just trying to get people vaccinated,” he said. “I’m trying to make it so we don’t have to worry about taking my kid to the park. It’s never going back to normal-normal, but to return to a point where your day-to-day life can resume in a way that is fulfilling and unencumbered by a thing that’s killed almost half a million people.”
While utilizing @IAVaccineAlerts to find appointments is straightforward and easy for many, it depends on one’s access to and ability to use the internet — a barrier for many of the Iowans most in need of protection from COVID-19, including seniors.
As the account’s following grew, Finley said a doctor in rural western Iowa contacted him and said seniors in his community are starting to have trouble getting appointments at their local Hy-Vee, as tech-savvy folks outside the area fill spots. It reinforced a fear Finley had about his program, he told the Gazette, but he acknowledged that there’s a benefit to as many people as possible getting vaccinated. The fewer appointments go unclaimed, the closer Iowa gets to herd immunity.
Still, Finley regularly encourages @IAVaccineAlerts followers to use the resource to help family, friends and neighbors in need schedule appointments and arrange transportation.
the way this has been handled state- and nation-wide. Look around you, in your social circle, your community, your workplace, and think about connecting with someone who may need help getting an appointment scheduled or transportation to/from an appointment. [2/7]
— Iowa Vaccine Alerts (@IAVaccineAlerts) March 12, 2021
“If we can take a couple hours off of everybody’s search, with the alerts that lets people step away from the computer and into their home life and their family life, it makes the search for a vaccine a little less of an impact for them,” Finley told KWQC-TV.