Eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine? Seattle techies help create site that shows open appointments

In a boot camp that started in January, students from the University of Washington School of Nursing are training other UW students and faculties who want to help with COVID-19 vaccinations. (Photo by Kiyomi Taguchi / University of Washington)

With Washington residents struggling to sign up for COVID-19 vaccinations, a volunteer team of software engineers developed an online solution. COVIDWA.COM provides a list of vaccination websites and determines which websites have space available.

The team launched the website yesterday after starting the effort last week. It currently serves all of King County, including Seattle, Bellevue, and Redmond, with more counties being added as soon as possible. COVIDWA.COM should cover all of Washington by next Tuesday.

“We all admired the workers who could make a difference at the front. And I can’t cure COVID, but I can help people get the information they need to keep themselves safe, ”said Maureen O’Hara, project manager for these efforts and a retired Microsoft employee.

The team had 20 members as of Wednesday and up to 30. Volunteers include many current and former Microsoft employees and engineers connected to the University of Washington’s Bothell campus.

I can’t cure COVID, but I can help people get the information they need to keep themselves safe.

COVIDWA.COM spoke to the Washington Department of Health about the platform. The department has the most up-to-date list of vaccine providers and it continues to grow. The state website lists the locations where the vaccine will be given, but does not specify where vaccines are available.

“DOH is familiar with these efforts and we think this is good service for Washingtoners,” department spokesman Shelby Anderson said via email. “We reached out to the developers to invite them to work more closely with us.”

COVIDWA.COM deletes information from each provider’s website to share where appointments are available. There are around 150 to 200 providers nationwide, and availability of schedules is not always clear on their locations.

To build the platform, the volunteers pooled the cloud storage they had available individually and bought the software they needed themselves. The website is ready to handle the expected traffic, the team said.

The initiative started with George Hu, a former Microsoft employee and part-time college professor. He struggled to find a vaccination appointment for his older in-laws and considered creating a digital solution. Hu reached out to the MIT software engineering student, Darren Lim, whom he had mentored. Hu also asked about volunteers on social media.

At the same time, software developer Olga Illarionova started a family hackathon to create a COVID planning page. Illarionova and her husband Dmitry met Hu’s efforts and the groups joined forces.

Screenshot of the COVID WA page. Click to enlarge.

Dan Morris, a Microsoft engineer, has signed up and is helping lead the project. Kirsten Andrews, who previously worked at Microsoft, Skype, and others, is Project and Communication Manager at COVIDWA.COM.

“Many of us have wondered how we can do more than just create social distance and stay safe,” Morris said in a statement. “This initiative gave the technicians the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and helped us through this difficult period.”

There are other similar efforts across the country and O’Hara said her team is working together and sharing ideas with them.

Washington state supplies an average of more than 26,000 doses per day, and more than 10% of the population have received a starting dose.

As of February 6, more than 940,000 doses of vaccine had been administered nationwide, accounting for nearly 80% of the 1,195,207 doses given to providers and long-term care programs.

For the first time, the state has begun receiving vaccine allocation projections from federal officials. The projections will make it easier for organizations to plan the staffing and other resources needed to administer the vaccines. Here are the projected allotments for the coming weeks:

  • Week of February 14: 206,125 total doses (113,800 first doses, 92,325 second doses)
  • Week of February 21: 240,620 total doses (123,160 first doses, 117,460 second doses)
  • Week of February 28: 242,360 total doses (128,560 first doses, 113,800 second doses)

The quantities do not reach the state target of 45,000 cans per day. The highest allocation for the last week of February is less than 35,000 daily doses.

A recent study by researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center predicted potential infection rates and COVID deaths for King County in the coming year. Achieving a higher vaccination level was key to minimizing what is known as a fourth wave of infections.

People who want to get involved in the COVIDWA.COM project can contact the program through their website.

Publisher’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify the relationship between COVIDWA.COM and the Washington Department of Health.

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