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DreamHost User Makes It Easier to Get COVID-19 Vaccines with FindaShot.org

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Getting a COVID-19 vaccine can be a roller coaster of emotions. First, there’s the thrill of knowing you’re finally eligible. But once you start to search for an appointment, the frustration begins.

David Newell experienced this firsthand. Based in Dallas, Texas, his parents became eligible to receive the vaccine as part of phase 1B at the end of December. “The challenge began of finding a way to get my parents vaccinated,” he says.

Thanks to the Texas Department of State Health Services, Newell knew which local pharmacies would receive doses of the vaccine. However, the local pharmacy chain didn’t have one website where they could search for appointments at multiple locations at once. Instead, he had to check each location individually.

“That would mean we had to do 30 searches every time we were looking for appointments,” Newell explains. “I started building a toolset to search all of these locations automatically so that as soon as it became available then we could make an appointment. As I was figuring out how to make that work, I realized a lot of people are going to need this for several weeks or several months.”

That’s why Newell created FindAShot.org to help people easily find an appointment to get vaccinated.

Leave No Appointment Behind

Launched on January 6, Find A Shot regularly checks pharmacy COVID-19 vaccine appointment websites and shows the appointment availability status. The results can be found by searching by state, zip code, or using a user’s location.

Newell, who is currently a part-time student enrolled in the Wharton School’s MBA for Executives program and employed full-time at McAfee, is certainly earning his community service hours, as the project is completely led by volunteers. Find A Shot is funded through donations via their Buy Me A Coffee page, which has raised more than $3k to keep the site running, with the typical donation at just $6.

The goal for Find A Shot is simple. “The big thing was to reduce frustration throughout the process, ensuring that people who want to find an appointment can find an appointment,” Newell says.

He has been spreading the word of Find A Shot with #LeaveNoAppointmentBehind on social media. Of any vaccine finder, Find A Shot has the widest appointment availability coverage of pharmacies, currently covering 19,000 locations owned by CVS, H-E-B, Hy-Vee, Rite Aid, and Walgreens. They have listed appointments available in 47 states, along with Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico (New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Oklahoma are the exceptions.) In most cases, they get updates on availability every few minutes to an hour.

One of the biggest challenges for Find A Shot is that most pharmacies have designed their appointment finders based on their flu shot scheduler and adapted them to COVID-19 vaccines.

“They are designed in such a way to be very local store centric, which is great for flu vaccines and tetanus shots or measles shots that have high supply relative to demand, but the challenge with the COVID-19 vaccine is supply is very constrained,” Newell says. “The closest store won’t have availability, which makes it challenging to search others. With Albertsons, for example, if I search my zip code, it will never return more than the six closest stores, even if there isn’t availability. Either you need to figure out the closest zip codes in your area or you give up, essentially.”

Another benefit of Find A Shot is that it will cut down on vaccines that go to waste since it helps try to fill all appointment slots.

“A bigger concern from a logistics standpoint is taking appointments so you can line up people to thaw and open one vial of the vaccine — there are typically 10 doses for Moderna,” Newell says. “Hopefully there will be zero no-shows so there won’t be any wasted doses. When 10 appointments open up, as soon as you book an appointment, the dose is allocated to you. If an appointment goes unfilled, then that could mean the dose goes unused unless they can find a standby list. People want to get it, so we need to find a matchmaker to help them get to where there are appointments. In extreme cases, an unused dose could lead to costing lives.”

Using DreamHost to Power the Backend

Newell has been a loyal DreamHost customer since 2007, so using DreamHost for Find A Shot was a no-brainer. “I have a fantastic hosting plan and experience with DreamHost and I already have all of my personal projects on DreamHost, so naturally it’s the first place I would go for adding another personal project.”

He’s a fan of DreamHost for the simplicity of setting up a new website, particularly registering it, as his plan includes five free domain names, one of which is Find A Shot. Another point of appreciation is the flexibility, specifically with the types of websites or web applications you can host.

Findashot.org’s homepage

“I’m using Python Flask and having that flexibility of not just a static website is really nice,” he says. “Additionally, in a few clicks I’ve got a database set up and can tie the Flask app directly into it, which accelerates the time it took to deploy — I was able to get it out really quickly.” It only took a few business days for Newell to completely build Find A Shot.

Another benefit of DreamHost that Newell appreciates is that there isn’t a separate bill for bandwidth. “Not having to worry about other charges and the fact that it’s all-inclusive with the plan rate means that the costs are predictable, so I’m not going to have any surprises on the bill,” he says. The scalability is another plus, as Find A Shot recently hit 65,000 unique visitors without breaking the memory limit. Finally, DreamHost’s support team is another element that makes Newell a loyal customer. “The support team has been phenomenal with getting back to me with details,” he says. “They are on top of it, incredibly professional and easy to work with.”

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Newell has volunteered countless hours to keep Find A Shot running, and the feedback from users makes it all worth it.

“All the heartwarming messages of support that we’ve gotten is so rewarding,” he says. “People are appreciative — the frustration [of trying to book an appointment] can border on desperation.”

Newell has received loads of positive feedback. For example, one user said, “Thanks for this site!! I scheduled a lot of my parents’ elderly friends that had no access or knowledge how. Thank you!”

For some people, Find A Shot has been lifesaving. One user said, “I live in NY and tried for weeks to get my 69 year old mom w/chronic illness a shot in MA to no avail. I used your site once and had an appointment for her within 20 minutes. Thank you!!!!!!!!!”

Newell has always had one thing in mind for Find A Shot. “Ultimately the goal is to make the site obsolete because everyone has been able to get vaccinated,” he says. Thanks to Find A Shot, that target gets a little closer every day.

Celia Shatzman

About the Author:

Some kids dream of becoming President of the United States or going into outer space. Celia Shatzman, on the other hand, always wanted to be a writer. In addition to outlining website best practices for DreamHost, her work has been featured in a host of top-notch publications — think Forbes, New York, New York Post, USA TODAY, CNTraveler.com, Time Out New York, and many others.