Chicagoans struggling to find a COVID-19 vaccine appointment could soon get some help.
The online health care scheduling website Zocdoc is partnering with the city of Chicago and several hospitals, clinics and pharmacies to help eligible Chicagoans find vaccine appointments.
But the vaccine supply continues to lag far behind demand. Tuesday’s announcement comes as more than 700,000 Chicagoans eligible to get inoculated are struggling to get access to the limited number of doses.
“There’s probably not vaccines for everyone on day one, but at least now there’s a central point where you can put in your email to get notified when more vaccines become available,” said Dr. Oliver Kharraz, founder and CEO of Zocdoc. “And then you can see all [the appointments] without having to go through 10 different websites.”
Chicagoans can sign up on the Zocdoc Vaccine Scheduler to be notified as appointments become available. The site is free to use and has translation support in more than 100 languages. The city says several local medical systems and hospitals, such as Erie Family Health and Rush University Medical Center, are already signed up – and others can connect for free.
Each week, the city is getting about 35,000 doses from Pfizer and Moderna, the two companies with emergency use authorization to distribute vaccines. This week, the Moderna shipment increased, bringing the total weekly new doses to nearly 40,000.
But health officials continue urging people to have patience as supply remains low.
“Demand for the vaccine is understandably high, and it is essential that we have tools that make it easy for eligible patients to get it safely and efficiently,” Dr. Paul Casey, chief medical officer at Rush, said in a statement.
Chicago’s Commissioner of Public Health, Dr. Allison Arwady, said Chicagoans should first try to make vaccine appointments with their primary care providers, if they have one. Right now, many hospitals are reaching out to patients aged 65 and older to schedule appointments, as elderly people are least likely to be able to navigate an online scheduling tool.
Kharraz said the current system is “too frustrating” and “too inefficient” because it requires people to navigate dozens of websites or spend hours on the phone.
“It is crucial to make this process easier so that even if you don’t have unlimited time and resources, you can get one of these shots,” Kharraz said. “There’s a lot of things that we’re doing for the first time as a society, but scheduling and access to care is not one of them and there’s just no time for trial and error to figure this out.”
There are an estimated 363,000 Chicagoans 65 and older who are eligible right now, alongside another 350,000 frontline essential workers, such as teachers and grocery store clerks. Those groups have been prioritized because they are at higher risk of being exposed to COVID-19 or, in the case of the elderly, are at a higher risk of dying from the virus.
Becky Vevea covers coronavirus vaccines and city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @beckyvevea.