Coronavirus (Covid-19) and the vaccine: A friend put together Vaccinehawk, an updater for Walgreens sites

Filed Under: Costs, Patients, Providers

A friend, Jake Bialer, put together a vaccine appointment availability updater for the Walgreen’s pharmacy site nationwide, describing it as “an independent effort to make vaccine availability more transparent.” It’s particularly useful for  booking eligible people at Walgreens, or for “leftover” or “waitlist” or “standby” vaccines at a place where unused vaccine might be available to those who are not currently eligible under formal guidelines, he said.

He got the idea when he was trying to find vaccines for relatives, and realized how hard it is, he said in a video interview. So he created this, called Vaccinehawk. Initially, he said, it was for the state of Illinois, but it has expanded and is now nationwide.

“It updates once an hour right now, though I’m looking into speeding that up,” Bialer wrote in an email after our video chat. “Walgreens only shows appointments that are within a 25 mile radius of where you search, so finding what appointments are available beyond 25 miles requires manually iterating through every single zip code with a Walgreens — a task best left to a computer program.”

He added: “I’ve posted this in a number of Vaccine Angel/Hunter Facebook groups and have had a really positive response. People have used it to just quickly identify vaccine slots for themselves or others. They’ve also used it to find extra doses.

“Yesterday, I had a person tell me that she and her friend both utilized my site to identify locations where there was excess vaccine. By looking at where there is high availability over the next few days, you can identify good locations to call for extras.”

The inconsistency of the system’s availability is hard to navigate, he added. “There are a number of cases all across the country where there is a ton of availability in one part of a state and no availability in another part,” he explained. “For example, in New York state, there have often been tons of appointments in Albany, Syracuse, and Rochester while there are no appointments around New York City. Although it’s a long trek to go to a different location in a state, once they realize it’s a possibility, some people are willing to make the drive.

Just knowing a location with volume helps

“Just knowing a location with a lot of available appointments is helpful for booking an appointment. Walgreens interface has two phases: first you search for whether appointments are available, then after confirming you are eligible and entering some info, you search for appointments slots. Often, if you pass the first phase, you’ll find no appointments are available in the second phase. With knowledge of where there are appointments, you can skip straight to searching for appointment slots increasing your chance of actually booking.”

This is also useful for “leftovers” or “standby” or “waitlist” vaccines, which occur when a vaccine site has leftovers at the end of the day. The vials of vaccine have a set number of doses, and if they have vaccine left at the end of the day, from an open vial, with no more scheduled appointments, most sites would rather use it than throw it out. If a site is giving out leftovers, they do not need to comply with the eligibility requirements on the state rollout plan. Some sites are keeping “standby” lists, but this differs a lot from site to site.

Some people have gotten leftovers at nursing homes, others at mass distribution sites and others at pharmacies. There’s not really a rulebook for this, because it varies from site to site. This is perfectly legit — New York State even has “leftovers” written into its distribution guidelines to insure that, for example, a hospital with an open vial of vaccine and all its appointments completed would have a procedure to contact would-be recipients instead of throwing away the vaccine.

How to do it? Experts say you should identify a site that is possibly going to have leftovers, and then contact them. The vaccine hunter groups suggest this course of action: “You need to find out locations near you that are giving out the vaccines. Speak to the pharmacist only. Ask them do they keep a waitlist for any doses remaining from no show or cancellations that would expire and be thrown away and if so, could your name be added to that waitlist? If not, find out the what is the last appt of the day and then show up an hour before. No harm in asking, no harm in trying and no guarantees. It takes hard work, timing, luck and persistence. And it is up to each pharmacist to choose whether to give out excess doses or not. Try Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, Rite Aid, Duane Reade and be on the lookout for pop up clinics too. Try calling but if they are overwhelmed with phone calls, it is probably best to drop in and ask.”

The explanation on the site

“The data below represents a snapshot of Walgreens Covid-19 vaccine appointment availability based on the Walgreens website,” the page says. “We search for vaccine appointments for the 5 days after the current day, matching the default first and second appointment search on the Walgreens website. Some appointments listed below may no longer be available.

“Although we attempted to search all Walgreens locations with vaccines that utilize the Walgreens website for booking, this is an unofficial website and our list of Walgreens locations with vaccines may be incomplete. No availability was found for states omitted below. Check with Walgreens to confirm there is no availability.

“Please visit the official vaccine website for booking appointments and the Walgreen’s vaccine eligibility page for verifying eligibility in your state. This website is not affiliated with Walgreens and is just an independent effort to make vaccine availability more transparent.”

Other independent coding vaccine availability efforts include Vaccinespotter, Turbovax, Vaccine Bot NJ, NY Covid Vaccine Bot, KC Vaccine Bot and many others.