Volunteer builds website that finds Colorado COVID-19 vaccine appointments

Volunteer builds website that finds Colorado COVID-19
vaccine appointments 1

vaccinespotter.org/CO

A screenshot of the Colorado COVID-19 Vaccine Spotter website.

A few weeks ago, a frustrated coworker sent Nick Muerdter a message: Could you build a website that makes it easier to get a vaccine appointment?

Muerdter determined he could, and now the Colorado COVID-19 Vaccine Spotter website — vaccinespotter.org/CO — keeps a continuously updated list of available slots at pharmacies around the state.

He also recently added pages for other states, and there’s now a Twitter account — @COVaxAlerts — that sends out alerts about new appointment openings in Colorado.

The coworker had seen an article about a volunteer who had built a website for appointments in New York City, and while building a consumer-facing site was different from the work Muerdter normally does as a software engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, he started working on it in his spare time.

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People seeking to get vaccinated have a few options, including joining a health system’s waiting list or searching for an appointment through a pharmacy. Muerdter decided to focus on pharmacies, since that seemed to take more time and cause more frustration.

“It was a very, very cumbersome process” to click through multiple pages, only to find out no appointments were available, he said.

The vaccine finder website uses tools to automatically collect data from chain pharmacies. If a user sees a suitable appointment, they have to follow the link to the pharmacy’s scheduling site, then go through the normal process to sign up. It’s not altogether seamless, but will save some searching time, Muerdter said.

For now, users have to check in regularly to see what appointments may be available, though Muerdter said he’d like to add a feature to send notifications. He’d also like to improve the ability to search by county or zip code, since the website currently lists all appointments in Colorado, sorted by pharmacy chain.

“There’s some user-friendliness issues,” he said.

Some of the pharmacy websites have proven difficult for a computer to read, because of features meant to block bots, Muerdter said. For example, King Soopers’ pharmacy page seems to know when a computer isn’t behaving like a human, so he had to program one to move the mouse like a person would.

“I sort of have this computer running 24/7, moving a mouse cursor around the King Soopers website,” he said.

Muerdter said his parents, who live in North Carolina, got their vaccines quickly, but some of his coworkers weren’t so lucky in finding appointments for their loved ones.

“It was kind of consuming everyone’s time and thoughts and days,” he said.

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