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This Vermonter Is Corralling Vt. Vaccine Info To Help People Get Shots Faster

A photo of Dan Barnes, looking into the middle distance with water behind him, paired with a screenshot of his vaccine finder website.
Dan Barnes, Courtesy
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Dan Barnes has paired his simple website and social media vigilance to share tips, tricks and openings for vaccination appointments in Vermont. He says he wants to help Vermonters find openings for a vaccine faster.

Thousands of Vermonters now have to reschedule their COVID-19 vaccine appointments after Vermont suspended its use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine Tuesday. But even before the pause, many have found it discouraging that signing up for a shot, and actually getting inoculated, can be two very different things. One Vermonter has taken it upon himself to help people wade through the options to find a shot sooner.

VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Dan Barnes, a Winooski marketer who’s collecting tips and shortcuts for getting vaccine appointments in Vermont on his personal website. Their conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Mitch Wertlieb: When did you build this particular site? How did it come about?

Dan Barnes: I had been helping my family members and, of course, myself, get signed up. And being pretty active on Twitter, I saw that a lot of people were struggling. There was a lot of information, but it wasn't consolidated in any particular area.

So really, I just started combing through the tips and things that people were finding useful, and organizing them in a place that made sense. Sort of “one stop” that the state site doesn't really offer.

And just to be clear here before we move forward, you're not helping Vermonters cheat the system in any way, right? No little fibs or anything, about actually using the information on this site?

Yeah, correct. It's not a hack, there's no bots or anything of that nature. I'm not smart enough for that. But it is just a place where information that really didn't exist anywhere, can be in a place that does exist somewhere.

So there are a couple of links to tools that other folks have made, like Vaccine Spotter, and things like that. But those are just tools as well. There's nothing nefarious happening here.

Was it frustration about how the state of Vermont has done its vaccine sign-up to this point, that prompted you to get this going?

Yeah, a little bit. I think the state's doing a good job with the things they can handle. But the biggest lack of information exists as it relates to the federal pharmacy program. So, there isn't any state help when it comes to, "Hey, how do I sign up on CVS or Walgreens or Kinney or similar?" There's just simply a link, and that isn't enough to understand how those things work well.

So what are some of the most useful tips that you've come across that can, as you say, help people get vaccinated sooner?

I think more than anything is to not settle with the first [appointment] they get. So often, the first available can be a month out. And that's awful. So, I think just taking the time to understand the various systems and getting really used to refreshing a lot, is really going to help people get an appointment sooner. It's helped countless people so far. And that isn't anything that I've done. It's just happens to be working for people, because they are spending more time [looking for an appointment], rather than just taking the first thing that they get.

Yeah, as you described it, I like how you said it's like a one-stop. You're aggregating information here and getting it out to people.

And you're doing more than simply collecting this information in one place. You're also using a hashtag, #OurShotVT, to actively tweet out places that have open slots for vaccines [and] some advice on what you're seeing day to day. I wonder, what kind of response you're getting from people who are engaging with this online?

"I think just taking the time to understand the various systems and getting really used to refreshing a lot, is really going to help people get an appointment sooner. It's helped countless people so far." — Dan Barnes

Yeah, the response has been good, both through my social channels on Twitter, or the people that I know well on Facebook. And like many marketing things, when it comes to states and governments, the hashtags often don't get a lot of traction.

So, I've been trying to use the one that they have started with, and used from time to time. But, you know, hashtags are only useful if they get traction so, just trying to put it out there and use that information. There are several of us on Twitter that are that are doing the same thing when we see appointments available. And it's all in an effort to try to get us all vaccinated sooner, because we're all in this together.

Any pushback from the state at all in your efforts here?

No, nothing. I haven't heard from them. I would be surprised if I did. I think, if anything, I'm doing them a favor by getting more people vaccinated sooner. And then again, I'm not doing that, but just sharing the information that I find.

"I would say book the first thing you can get, and then check back every day to see if you can improve upon it." — Dan Barnes

Dan, if you had one piece of advice that you would give to Vermonters who are trying to book appointments right now, what would that piece of advice be?

I would say book the first thing you can get, and then check back every day to see if you can improve upon it.

The thing that you're not being told is, you can hold more than one appointment: You can hold a state appointment, and you can hold a pharmacy appointment. So, play that until you get the one that works best for you. Most people are finding they're able to get in within the week if they put the time in.

And you should probably cancel an appointment if you get one earlier. In other words, cancel that later appointment, right?

Absolutely. You never want to hold two for very long, because then you'd be putting someone else, risking someone else, not getting a vaccination sooner.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet Morning Edition host Mitch Wertlieb @mwertlieb.

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