RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
All right, if you or your loved one is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine but you can't find one, help could be on the way. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just launched an online search tool in partnership with Boston Children's Hospital to help people identify which facilities have supplies of the vaccine. It's called vaccinefinder.org. This initial launch is limited to certain providers in most states. NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin has details.
SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: When you put in your ZIP code at vaccinefinder.org, you see an interactive map showing local pharmacies that get COVID-19 vaccine doses from the federal government. You also see whether they have doses in stock. If you live in Alaska, Indiana, Iowa or Tennessee, you're in luck because in those states, the maps show more places administering COVID-19 vaccines - not just pharmacies, but private hospitals and clinics and public health sites.
JOHN BROWNSTEIN: The idea is to show vaccine providers that are open to the public, how to contact them, how to book an appointment and try to show the daily inventory status so people are clear where there's vaccine and where there isn't.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: That's John Brownstein, the founder of VaccineFinder and chief information officer at Boston Children's Hospital. He says after this initial launch, more providers in more places are expected to join in in the coming days and weeks. VaccineFinder is actually not new. It began nine years ago.
BROWNSTEIN: It all started after H1N1, where we wanted to figure out how to provide the population with the best possible insights on where vaccine was in their communities. And since then, we have been building this platform.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Usually showing people where to get the seasonal flu shot or travel vaccines. Brownstein says in recent months, a team of about three dozen people has been working feverishly to launch this tool to work for people looking for COVID-19 vaccines while navigating the fact that at this moment, vaccine supply is relatively low and eligibility is limited, both of which constrain how useful the tool is.
Jen Kates of the Kaiser Family Foundation says she wishes this tool had been around a few weeks ago. In the meantime, many states have created their own provider maps people can use, and that's added to this confusing patchwork.
JEN KATES: This idea has a lot of potential, but I think there's still some questions about what will it be like in practice.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: There are also concerns about how many providers will put their information on VaccineFinder and whether the providers will really update their inventory every 24 hours.
VaccineFinder's John Brownstein acknowledges this is not a silver bullet.
BROWNSTEIN: What we're trying to do is add a resource into the mix to help consumers. Of course, not all problems get solved with a new website.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: And he says they have partnerships to put VaccineFinder info about where vaccine providers are located and who has shots available in lots of different places online, from Google Maps to the traffic app Waze to GoodRx.
BROWNSTEIN: So it's not just about coming to the website, but meeting consumers where they are and making sure that anybody who's looking for a vaccine knows where to find them.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: The supply of coronavirus vaccine doses is growing. The Biden administration says it's now sending out over 16 million doses a week, an increase of more than 70% since inauguration. Assuming that trend continues, more shots will be available, and more providers like clinics and even doctors' offices will be able to begin distributing vaccine doses as well. So people can look forward to a time when COVID-19 vaccine doses are abundant and everyone is eligible, and you might even be able to ask your smart speaker to find a clinic nearby with vaccine doses in stock and head over to get your shot.
Selena Simmons-Duffin, NPR News.
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