Arkansans in the scramble for shots to help them survive the pandemic have likely come across the Arkansas COVID-19 Vaccine Spotter. This website keeps up-to-the-minute tabs on open vaccine appointments at chain pharmacies in the state, and provides links to claim them.
The handy site comes to us courtesy of Nick Muerdter, a Denver-based software engineer at the National Renewable Energy Lab. Muerdter saw people around him struggling to figure out where and how to get a COVID-19 vaccine, so he decided to use his expertise and free time to help.
“It was a fun problem to try to solve. Just helping people is the ultimate goal,” he said.
Watching people spend entire days making calls and scouring the internet to try to score vaccine appointments was frustrating.
“I was seeing a lot of co-workers having to deal with getting vaccines for their parents or loved ones,” he said. “It’s tricky. It’s quite a process to navigate, and it can be frustrating and complicated and all that.”
About three weeks ago Muerdter came across a story about a programmer in New York who built an online vaccine finder. He decided he would do the same thing. His prototype was ready for testing a few days later. It worked. Instead of having to make phone calls or go from website to website, his friends could search for available appointments at different locations all on one site.
The Colorado tracker took off quickly and got lots of use. So Muerdter quickly expanded it to all 50 states, plus Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
While his Colorado tracker includes vaccine appointment information for locally owned pharmacies, the Arkansas COVID-19 Vaccine Spotter and those in other states include only chain pharmacies. Still, it’s a nifty tool that can save lots of time.
“The feedback has been tremendous. Lots of people have gotten in touch to tell me they’ve had luck using it,” Muerdter said. “It’s made this frustrating and complicated process slightly less complicated and frustrating.”
Muerdter said he doesn’t know and doesn’t really want to know how much time he’s poured into the project. Lots of people have tried to give him money to cover time and expenses, but he turns them down.
“Honestly, I just want to get this information out there,” he said.
But Muerdter does accept help and collaboration from fellow programmers out there doing similar work. The code is open source, meaning other programmers can replicate his work and build on it if they like. And eventually, this loose-knit team of do-gooder programmers can abandon what they’ve built.
“Hopefully soon this type of website won’t be needed at all and it can just go away. That’s the ultimate goal,” Muerdter said.
Until then, he said he doesn’t mind dedicating nights and weekends to a project people are finding helpful.
“Honestly, I’m sort of a geek. I like doing this kind of stuff.”