A 24-year-old programmer, Tim Ratigan, has written a python code program that notifies him of open slots for COVID 19 vaccines.
Ratigan’s father, who lived in San Antonio, one of the regions where access to the vaccine is competitive, had gone for months without access to the vaccine.
This, however, is not an isolated issue. Other eligible individuals, especially the elderly, had to keep on refreshing their browsers to determine whether there’s an opening in HEB, the authorized pharmacy for the vaccine’s distribution and administration. In addition to the fact that the process is undoubtedly stressful, the period of opening can also be elusive to many. Thus saving precious time bearing in mind the President has a timeline to deliver the vaccines.
But Ratigan’s program would bring great relief to him and his family based in regions with highly competitive access to the vaccine. Without having to refresh his browser, a notification is sent to him when an HEB spot opens. In his words, you just need to open the URL link sent to your phone, and you’d most likely not miss the vaccine appointment.
This is a classic example of how programming can help solve man’s immediate needs. Meanwhile, other programmers have written scripts to do similar tasks and uploaded repositories online such as GitHub so they can be accessed by others.
Ratigan has a boutique online community member whose aim is to ensure their friends and family have access to the vaccines. The community that is barely 6 months old has written numerous Python code to pushed to Github repositories. As of now, they have a plethora of codes uploaded on GitHub to help people get a slot for vaccination.
But Ratigan’s program doesn’t mean much for the general public. A bottleneck is that the code can only be useful for someone who knows writing codes or a person that knows who does.
According to Ratigan, it is an intensional move. He said that making the process completely online would make the elderly ones, who are entitled to it, largely disadvantaged yet again. Having to execute the code with some knowledge of writing codes physically limits the number of people who access it.
The codes uploaded on GitHub scrape websites of pharmaceutical stores in different regions every few seconds to determine when the vaccination provider had opened slots. The code results can then be compared with information from social media platforms such as Reddit for validation.
Amidst the challenges in vaccine administration, such as in-line queues and limited openings, Americans are still getting vaccinated faster than President Biden’s projection. Biden plans to infiltrate the country’s nook and cranny with 150 million vaccine shots by the 30th of April. Consequently, he has directed the White House to begin giving every adult the vaccine by May 1.
While this looks promising, the process of distribution is a major issue. The vaccines are largely distributed by pharmaceutical stores, which would require individuals to register on their website before booking an appointment to be vaccinated. This immediately becomes a challenge to those that are not tech-savvy or have someone around that can help.
Besides, the fact that appointment spaces in the distribution spots outweigh the number of individuals to be vaccinated has overwhelmed the system. Hence, causing elderly individuals to keep their eyes peeled and keep on refreshing their browsers.
Ratigan’s program, however, comes in handy as he was able to secure a spot for his father-in-law within an hour.
Other individuals are also beginning to enjoy this luxury. When Matt Henze, an IT engineer, heard of this, he could book a slot for his parents and other friends and family he knew were eligible.
Scraping data from the web is ethical except in some cases where the website frowns against it and given that you do not hit the webserver with too many requests in a short period of time. It also does not require any authentication, such as signing in with a username and password making it available for whoever has the Python skill. There are many Python online courses that teaches these things.
Jonathan Ho is another individual that took advantage of web scraping and writing python scripts for easier vaccination. As a computer scientist, Ho has done some web scraping projects while in graduate school and learn Python online to become better at it. When he found out his parents were not vaccinated, he quickly wrote a code that would find one for him. And it worked.
Ho’s program would identify regions where there’s the availability of vaccines and make them available to the public through a Twitter account, @ValleyVax. He said that it feels wrong to hoard such kind of information from the public.