“I need to get involved” – Volunteer-run VaccinatePA.org helps Pennsylvanians find appointments

Coronavirus in Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The problem was easy enough to diagnose.

“Millions of eligible people are trying to figure how where they can actually go to get a vaccine and how to set up an appointment,” explained Seth Rubinstein, a graduate student at Harvard University. “They’re having to navigate tons of sites to do that.”

The treatment required more work. But Rubinstein and two undergraduate students at the University of Pittsburgh were determined.

“The three of us met up over the internet with kind of a similar idea about wanting to do something like this for Pennsylvania,” Rubinstein said. “And really just took it from there, bringing on a number of volunteers who have joined.”

The “this” he describes is VaccinatePA.org, a website that allows users to click on any county in the commonwealth and find locations taking appointments. You can’t actually make an appointment on the site. But you can find the handful of locations taking appointments or actively adding people to their waitlists, among the many more in most counties that aren’t.

The volunteers, meanwhile, are senior citizens, professionals and people like Jordan Pressley, a Temple University student from York who read about the need through a university program that informs students about various organizations.

“And I was like absolutely, I need to get involved,” Pressley said. “Because I think it’s just so important that our community knows the resources that they have available.”

Pressley and other volunteers call vaccination sites to find out whether appointments are available, pairing that painstaking process with a website that can then disseminate the information quickly and widely.

“We’ve been over the past few days onboarding in the 50 range of volunteers, just to make sure we’re calling these locations enough so that the information is as accurate as possible,” said Richie Goulazian, one of the two Pitt students who co-founded the site with Goulazian.

How complete is the information? A sampling of sites reported for York County showed Vaccinate PA had contacted 25 of the county’s 37 sites. Of the 25, one was actively taking appointments; two were actively adding people to their waitlists; 10 confirmed no availability, and the rest either had varying availability or couldn’t confirm. In other words, someone in York could quickly ascertain which three of the 37 sites were worth contacting first.

Asked by abc27 News whether it was impressed with the work of the volunteers, Pennsylvania’s Department of Health responded with a statement:

“The Department of Health is laser-focused on working with trusted local providers to get the vaccine in arms as quickly as it is available from the federal government. It appears that Vaccinate PA has the same goal in mind. The department will continue to keep the map of trusted local vaccine providers as updated as possible. As more vaccine becomes available in the future it will be easier to schedule vaccination appoints. Meanwhile, we encourage people to continue the proven mitigation efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by wearing a mask, washing hands, and maintaining social distance.”

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