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Volunteers build 'easier, less frustrating' COVID-19 vaccine website for Washington

CovidWA.com pulls together nearly all the state's available vaccine appointments in a single, easy-to-use website.

A new website, built by volunteers, is helping thousands of people find COVID-19 vaccine appointments in Washington.

Patients must no longer surf through dozens of pages, clicking refresh for hours on end, only to find everything booked up.

CovidWA.com pulls together nearly all the state's available vaccine appointments in a single, easy-to-use website. It tells patients which providers have doses and directs them to sign-up pages.

“Our goal has been making it faster, easier, less frustrating,” said George Hu, one of the site’s co-founders.

He and others, who kept running into dead ends while searching for appointments for older family members, connected on a vaccine finder Facebook page and started building the tool they all wanted.

“Anybody in tech immediately knows what the solution is,” said Hu, who is retired from Microsoft and teaches computer science at South Seattle College.

Dozens of volunteers add pharmacies, clinics, hospitals, health departments, and providers to the CovidWA.com platform, which constantly scours those sites, updating entries for each location.

“(Volunteers) want to be part of the solution, we're getting tired of sitting home,” said Maureen O’Hara, a project manager and communications lead.

CovidWA.com keeps expanding, Hu said, and now covers the entire state.

“We're seeing an excess of 10,000 users a day. Every single hour, we're getting over 1,000 people joining our website and looking,” he said.

There are some limitations, like bot-blockers, which, in a handful of cases, prevent the vaccine finder from accessing info. And available doses are still limited, especially in more populous counties.

The Washington Department of Health (DOH) said it supports the project.

“We are inspired by the efforts of these volunteers who are seeking to solve the same problem. As soon as DOH learned of their efforts, we reached out and we are now actively collaborating with them,” DOH said in a statement.

Hu said he and his team are talking with the state about merging their technology with the state’s vaccines portal.

“Our goal is for DOH to just take this information from us, and we actually want to be out of business in a matter of a couple of months,” he said.

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