Finding a COVID-19 vaccine appointment has turned into a laborious pastime for many in the Cincinnati area.
It doesn't help that vaccines are coming to the community through different streams, such as hospitals, health departments and pharmacies, making it hard to track which providers actually have appointments.
But things may be looking up: Federal, state and local governments and public health agencies are trying to provide more streamlined ways for people to register for a vaccine.
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US government to launch website to accelerate vaccinations
In his public address on Wednesday, President Joe Biden said that to accelerate vaccinations, the federal government will launch a new website to help arrange appointments.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also launched vaccinefinder.org to help people find vaccine appointments using their ZIP code. The site shows if a provider has vaccine in stock as well as what type of vaccine the provider carries, such as Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson.
Once someone has found a provider, the CDC site directs the user to that provider's website to schedule an appointment. The site also has information about each provider such as phone numbers, directions and location hours.
Ohio, NKY update COVID-19 vaccination appointment websites
The Northern Kentucky Health Department has added the option to its COVID-19 vaccine information webpage.
On the state level, Ohio rolled out gettheshot.coronavirus.ohio.gov Monday, a $3.6 million website that was been billed as a "one-stop-shop" for Ohioans to find and schedule appointments for themselves or another person.
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But many appointments at Ohio providers still cannot be booked directly through the site at this point, something Gov. Mike DeWine said will improve with time.
The site will be used to book appointments at Ohio's mass vaccination sites across the state, including one at the Cintas Center in late March.
To find and make appointments on gettheshot.coronavirus.ohio.gov, Ohio residents must fill out some information screening them for their eligibility and then enter their address, city or ZIP code to find appointments.
Once they have found a provider, they will either be directed to that provider's website to schedule their appointment or be able to sign up for one directly through the state's website.
Cincinnati partners with ArmorVax app service
Across Ohio, 18 health departments had partnered with ArmorVax as of Feb. 5, another vaccine scheduling tool. Southwest Ohio agencies that are using the system are Hamilton County Public Health, Cincinnati Health Department, Clermont County, Norwood and Springdale city health departments.
Stephanie Courtney, an epidemiologist with the Cincinnati Health Department, said city health staff has been using ArmorVax since almost the start of the vaccine rollout to schedule vaccine appointments.
Last week, the city Health Department added a link to ArmorVax to its vaccine-scheduling site as an avenue for the public to get a vaccine scheduled.
The city used federal CARES Act money to pay to be part of the ArmorVax app service.
ArmorVax director of marketing Tisha Smith said the cost of using the service varies from partner to partner depending on different factors, such as vaccine supply, but on average, the company has been quoting its partners around 50 cents per vaccination.
The service, which was created by a company called RB Medical Supply based in the Northeast Ohio city of Menton, also has no set-up or maintenance fees, Smith said. Onboarding can be done as quickly as needed.
"This is just another tool the Cincinnati Health Department is using," Courtney said. "It was an option made available to the health departments in Hamilton County."
Smith said Mentor-based RB Medical Supply, which created personal protective equipment and other medical supplies, started developing ArmorVax in July.
Hamilton County Public Health was one of the first to pilot the app in October using flu immunizations, Smith said. Pilot partners would report back ways ArmorVax could be improved for both providers and consumers. The app was released for public use in December.
Clermont County Public Health spokesman Keith Robinson said the app is cutting down staff time to schedule appointments.
"The biggest advantage to it is that it will greatly reduce the amount of staff time required to schedule appointments," Robinson said. "Until last weekend, we still had been manually calling everyone on our list to schedule appointments. With more people getting vaccinated now, many of the names on our waiting list had already been vaccinated. So our success rate with calling people to schedule was getting lower. We had been using up to 10 staff members a day for our manual scheduling."
Courtney said people can download the app and it'll show where to get an appointment from all providers in the city. The providers must make the appointments publicly viewable for the users to see them, and the city plans to do this for at least a portion of its appointments.
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If viewable appointments are all taken, check later, Courtney said. "We will continue to add more appointments."
The city health department tends to add first-dose appointments on Tuesday or Wednesday, and she suggested people "check back on Wednesday."
"It's a really user-friendly tool, both from the provider side and the patient side," Courtney said. One of the advantages, she said, is that people can download the app on their phone, stay logged in and refresh periodically to check for appointments. After they're vaccinated, she said, as long as they carry their phone with them they'll have a record of their vaccine with them at all times.