Solving for chaos
If you haven’t yet heard of Dr. B or VaxStandby, chances are you will soon. The recently-merged team is one of a growing number of “hacks” the tech community is taking on to help solve the many systemic problems with the U.S. COVID-19 vaccine rollout. By “hack,” we’re not referring to malicious activity, but instead to quick and efficient creative solutions to problems using technology, usually by small groups of tech talent organized around a common mission.
In the absence of a clear national strategy for mass vaccination, we’ve all heard the stories of (or had direct experience with) the mad scramble to locate vaccine doses and book appointments for eligible Americans. Many caregivers are dedicating their days trying to help parents and friends get a slot. The more tech-savvy among them report playing the Ticketmaster game: staying up until midnight to hit ‘refresh’ on target websites at just the right moment, in hopes of snagging an elusive appointment. Others are staking out pharmacies in hopes of getting an unused vaccine at the end of the day.
Into this chaos marked by universal uncertainty and anxiety come a number of hacks.
Two (now-merged) companies aim to solve a critical COVID marketplace problem: matching vaccine-seeking Americans with unused or excess doses that would otherwise go to waste. Launched on February 1 by friends and designer-engineers Jimmy Chion and Ian Macartney, VaxStandby is a streamlined site that allows people to easily sign up with only their phone number and zip code to receive notifications if COVID-19 vaccine doses become available near them. Dr. B aims to tackle the same issue, while also providing service en español. Both represent private citizens hacking a crucial problem that neither the federal nor local governments have addressed. The companies announced on Valentine’s Day 2021 that they have joined forces, a laudable example of collaboration in pursuit of a common goal: “making the most of every dose.”
Other websites quickly launched by technologists to help include:
– VaccinateCA, created by a small group of frustrated citizens who manually call California hospitals and pharmacies daily to track their vaccine availability and their processes for getting one, and publish the information in one place.
– Similar efforts built by regular citizens to solve this problem include TurboVax in New York and MA COVID Vaccines in Massachusetts.
What’s Big Tech doing to help solve COVID?
A recent article from health-focused venture firm Rock Health outlines some notable initiatives, including Google’s $150M commitment to help spread factual information about the vaccine, including a partnership with startup OneMedical to help ensure equitable distribution to underserved communities, and the launch of the COVID-19 Vaccine Media Hub. In terms of safe transportation, the report also highlights Lyft and Uber, which together have committed to 70 million free or discounted rides to and from vaccination sites, while Ride Health is focusing participants in ongoing clinical trials. Then there’s the Vaccination Credential Initiative, which “brings together healthcare organizations, technology firms, nonprofits, academia, and startups working to empower consumers to conveniently access, store, and share digital COVID-19 vaccination records.” This type of technology is a prerequisite for anything like a “vaccine passport” as we attempt to move back into the new normal of life post-pandemic.
As the federal government moves to enact its national strategy and works to populate its own website (VaccineFinder.org), and until such time as every American is able to find and receive a full series of vaccinations, these measures are essential to helping move the ball down the field.
We applaud these measures, and as a health-tech company, we too hope to help by providing timely information about COVID-19 and related conditions, including Post-Acute COVID Syndrome, the condition affecting “COVID long-haulers,” and Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), a rare complication of COVID-19 infection in children. You can also check your symptoms if COVID-19 infection is a possibility, read all the cutting-edge research on COVID-19 (and related conditions) as it’s published, and research ongoing COVID-19 clinical trials.
Here’s to your health.
Update (May 2021)
Now that vaccinations are thankfully widespread in the U.S., some reporters are taking time to reflect. MIT recently published a piece to better unpack the tangible impact of Dr. B in terms of doses distributed, and raises some interesting questions.