Some of the founders of VaccinatePA talk on a Zoom call. Clockwise, from top left: Zhengming Wang, Richard Goulazian, Andrea Michael, and Courtney Sheridan. (Courtesy of VaccinatePA) VaccinatePA Founders
Some of the founders of VaccinatePA talk on a Zoom call. Clockwise, from top left: Zhengming Wang, Richard Goulazian, Andrea Michael, and Courtney Sheridan. (Courtesy of VaccinatePA)

VaccinatePA has attracted more than 350,000 visitors to its site, and its goal is simple—to help Pennsylvanians get vaccine appointments.

When Richard Goulazian went to the state Department of Health’s website to find coronavirus vaccine appointments for his family, he found a mess.

The University of Pittsburgh sophomore browsed a site that was difficult to read and clunky to use. And he couldn’t even use it to make an appointment.

So the 20-year-old talked with some fellow students and friends, and came up with the idea of VaccinatePA, a website designed to make it easier to find available vaccine appointments. 

As of April 9, over 375,000 Pennsylvanians have visited the site.

The group that created VaccinatePA are Pennsylvania residents and students at the University of Pittsburgh and Harvard. VaccinatePA has a core team of approximately 10 volunteer team members who are engineers, community activists, and students. The core team keeps the website up and running, while more than 100 volunteers make calls and gather information. 

The Problems With the State’s Website

Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration has refused to create a central registry for residents to sign up for the coronavirus vaccines. The administration has argued that that role should belong with the local health systems.

So the state’s website does not provide a space where Pennsylvanians can register for the vaccine. 

Instead, the state’s website directs Pennsylvanians to a map of the state that is cluttered with pins that mark the locations of current vaccination sites. 

Residents have to contact each location individually to inquire about the vaccine and available appointments. A staffer at one vaccination site said they receive 15-20 calls a day.

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Pennsylvania Department of Health Vaccination Site locator. (Screenshot)

How the VaccinatePA Website Works

Keeping this in mind, the students created a website that’s more user-friendly, to help Pennsylvania residents find out where they can get vaccinated. 

Visitors to vaccinatepa.org will see a search engine the moment they hit the website. They then enter their county or ZIP code, and the site pulls up a list of nearby vaccination locations with available appointments. The website also allows users to narrow their search by distance, based on miles.

Once visitors select an available location the link redirects to the vaccination facility’s page for registration. Users can register for an appointment within minutes.

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VaccinatePA.org’s homepage. (Screenshot)

“A lot of people are viewing this as a way for them to help get to the end of the pandemic,” said Courtney Sheridan, a University of Pittsburgh freshman and team member at VaccinatePA. “People have been coming to us and thanking us for the opportunity to help.” 

For example, one user thanked them in a message, saying, “At long last ONLY BECAUSE OF YOU this pair of 76 year olds have an appointment! Talk about community service! Thanks from our still functioning hearts.” 

VaccinatePA Needs Volunteers

To coordinate the information, the volunteers maintain a busy schedule. 

The team makes an average 800 to 1,000 calls each week. Each call takes three to four minutes. A volunteer can make a dozen calls or a hundred, depending on how much time they have available. The organization aims to give their volunteers as much flexibility as possible. 

The group could use more volunteers.

Anyone with an email and phone number can sign up to become a volunteer. The volunteers range from students to senior citizens with one goal in mind—spreading awareness about vaccine appointments to all Pennsylvania residents.