- Huge Ma has developed a bot that tweets coronavirus vaccine appointments in NYC.
- A 65-year-old said it may be her only opportunity to access a vaccine.
- The rollout of the vaccine in the city and the state has been hit by problems.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
A software engineer has developed a Twitter bot that tweets whenever appointment slots open up at city- and state-run coronavirus vaccine sites in New York City.
@turbovax went from 1,000 to 28,000 Twitter followers in less than a week as residents scrambled to access doses of the vaccines.
Huge Ma said he developed the bot as a side project, describing how he “saw a problem and hacked together a fix.”
The bot only serves New York City, and has no plans yet to expand to other areas. Some developers have offered Ma help, but he said he’s undecided about open-sourcing the project, which would allow other people to access the code and replicate the bot.
Twitter users have said the account has helped them book vaccine appointments for themselves or their relatives.
Mark Levine, a New York City council member who chairs its health committee, called @turbovax “the hottest Twitter account in NYC right now.”
Expiring doses, small supplies, and hospital fines
The rollout of the vaccine in both New York City and New York state has been hit by problems, including not having enough doses, shots being thrown away because of the state’s strict eligibility criteria, and appointments being snapped up quickly.
New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio, warned that people from outside the city had been bypassing its eligibility criteria to snap up doses. The city’s essential workers can get vaccines if they live elsewhere but non-essential workers from other locations may also be trying to sneak in to get a shot, he said.
By mid-January, a quarter of the people who got a coronavirus shot in New York City weren’t residents, The City reported.
Read more: Inside Moderna’s historic coronavirus vaccine program that transformed the biotech upstart into a $55 billion drug industry powerhouse
New York City has opened up vaccination sites at Citi Field in Queens, where the New York Mets play, and the Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, which will specifically serve residents of those areas. These sites could still be hit by vaccine shortages, however. The city has already administered more than 1 million coronavirus vaccine doses so far, but it urgently needs more doses, de Blasio said.
The wider state is expanding its vaccination network, too. On Wednesday, New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, and Biden administration officials announced plans to open the state’s two largest vaccination centers. The community-based mass-vaccination sites located in “socially vulnerable communities” at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn and York College in Queens will vaccinate around 3,000 New Yorkers each day over the course of eight weeks.
Vaccine centers across New York State have reported being forced to throw away doses because they couldn’t find enough eligible people to vaccinate under the state’s strict guidelines. The state has since said hospitals face a $100,000 fine if they don’t use their COVID-19 vaccine doses quickly enough. Some of the state’s hospitals had used less than a fifth of their doses, Cuomo added.
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