Booking a Covid-19 Vaccine? More Tools and Tips, Plus Help From Apple, Facebook and Google

Me: “Hey Siri, refresh the pharmacy websites until there’s an available vaccine appointment within 50 miles, then book it as fast as robotically possible. If you can’t do that, sound your loudest alarm to get my attention.”

Siri: “I didn’t get that. Can you try again?”

Alright, maybe I got a bit overzealous after Apple announced it is making it easier to find Covid-19 vaccines.

Can you blame me? As I detailed in a column a few weeks ago, in many states getting a vaccine appointment is an experience somewhere between Vegas poker and the Hunger Games. The combo of poorly designed websites and scarce appointments will make you wish you could simply stand on a line 15 miles long, on a freezing cold day, no snacks in sight.

People waiting for a Covid-19 vaccine at the Javits Center in New York on March 2.

Photo: mike segar/Reuters

The big tech companies now are pitching in to help with a small part of the struggle: finding the vaccine locations. Earlier this week, Apple AAPL -2.20% and Facebook FB -0.98% joined Google GOOG -1.10% in offering some new tools:

• Apple: In Apple Maps, you can now search for vaccine locations and see local results plotted out. You can even ask Siri, “Where can I get a Covid vaccination?” But that just prompts you to open the Maps app to see the results. Each location has an info card with the store address, hours, phone number and a link to the website. The information comes from VaccineFinder, operated by Boston Children’s Hospital, but Apple will also vet submissions from other providers for possible inclusion in its database.

• Facebook: Located in the Covid-19 Information Center of your Facebook app, you can now find a vaccine-location search tool, also powered by VaccineFinder. On mobile, tap the three lines in the bottom right, select See More and tap “Covid-19 Information Center.” In a web browser, click See More on the left toolbar and it should be listed. Facebook also launched an information center on Instagram, with information about vaccine eligibility among other resources.

• Google: Google Maps has offered search for vaccines since late January. In the app, search for “Covid vaccines” and you’ll get a list of locations offering the vaccines. In addition to contact information and their hours of operation, there is eligibility information. When you search Google proper for “Covid vaccine,” you will be taken to a vaccine page with a breakdown of how many doses have been given in the country, recent news and other information.

Apple, Google and Facebook now each offer a vaccine map and search tools.

Photo: Joanna Stern/The Wall Street Journal

It’s helpful—sorta. Those tools tell you where shots are being given, but they don’t tell you if doses are available or let you book appointments, which go faster than a plate of free samples at Costco in the before times.

My previous column and video provided lots of specific tech tips and tools to help with that, specifically for booking at pharmacies such as CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens. I’m thrilled that since publishing, I’ve heard from dozens who have successfully booked appointments using those tricks. To those who have written to say it’s insane that we need tricks in the first place, I couldn’t agree more.

I’ve also continued to book appointments for friends and family across the country and have learned a few more things along the way. Here they are:

Facebook Groups are your best friend. I never thought I’d say that, but no resource has proven to be more useful than Facebook in this process.

Members of local groups post as soon as they see new appointments, and generally answer questions. In a number of them, they’ll post when the pharmacies are live with a bunch of new appointments.

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Not every city or state has a group, but the ones where vaccines are harder to come by—Florida, Oregon, New Jersey, Philadelphia—can be very active. For instance, moderators in the New Jersey group post screenshots of CVS openings almost daily at around 5 to 6 a.m. (That’s around the time CVS usually drops new openings. See my original article for information on appointment release timing for the leading pharmacies.)

Inside a Facebook group, go to the Discussion tab. Where it says “New Activity,” toggle to “Recent Posts” so you’re seeing the latest first and can jump on appointment availability.

Important safety reminder: Be on the lookout for scammers. Don’t pay anyone to make an appointment for you, and don’t share highly sensitive info, like Social Security numbers and passwords. Also, misinformation about the vaccine is all around Facebook. When looking for information about the shots and side effects, check trusted news and medical organizations.

Try Find A Shot. This site, started by MBA student David Newell, has become one of my go-tos for searching pharmacy locations in a specific ZIP Code. Unlike the tools from Apple, Google and Facebook, this site also lists availability—or at least it tries to. Things can move so quickly that sometimes the information on the site can be outdated.

Find A Shot not only shows you a list of local places to get a shot but also includes appointment availability information.

Photo: Joanna Stern/The Wall Street Journal

Still, I keep the site open, which refreshes on its own every four minutes. Then when I see an appointment available, I automatically launch the pharmacy website (and make use of those tips from my previous column).

Search for specific vaccines. I’ve had a few people request that I book the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine for them. If you’re interested in getting a specific shot, you’ll have to do more legwork.

A good place to start is VaccineFinder, the Boston Children’s Hospital site used by the big tech companies. When you search by ZIP Code directly through the website, it tries to look for the type of vaccine offered at specific locations.

When it comes to the specific pharmacy sites, the info on offered vaccines varies. CVS specifies the type of vaccine available during the online booking process but only when slots open. (A company spokesman says each location offers just one type of vaccine.)

Rite Aid doesn’t specify the type of vaccine, so I’d suggest calling the store to find out what it might have. Other chains I’ve seen give you the option when you sign up. For example, ShopRite’s online booking system lets you sign up for either the single-dose Johnson & Johnson or the two-dose Moderna.

Once you sign up for Dr. B, you’ll receive this text message. If there happen to be leftover vaccines and you’re eligible and it’s your turn, you’ll be texted and will have 15 minutes to respond.

Photo: Joanna Stern/The Wall Street Journal

Try for a leftover vaccine. Some vaccine locations have unused supply at the end of the day or have no-shows for appointments. Instead of these going to waste, services are popping up to get them to people struggling to find appointments.

One service, called Dr.B, works with local providers. Sign up on the website with your phone number and some other personal information, and it may alert you if there are extra doses in your area. It’s likely not a way to skip the line, however. When you finish your registration, you get a text message saying, “We prioritize extra doses based on local government criteria & your order in line.” Also, you’ll need to act fast when you get the text saying a shot is available.

Vaccine Hunter is another group with a similar mission. It has worked to set up different state-based Facebook groups, which scout and alert others of open vaccine appointment and excess vaccine availability. Check out the groups for more local information.

An 80-year-old patient, Arlene Sheff, received a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in New York City’s Queens borough.

Photo: Desiree Rios for The Wall Street Journal

Write to Joanna Stern at joanna.stern@wsj.com

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