This Twitter Bot Alerts LA Residents to Open Vaccine Appointments

Francesca Billington

Francesca Billington is a freelance reporter. Prior to that, she was a general assignment reporter for dot.LA and has also reported for KCRW, the Santa Monica Daily Press and local publications in New Jersey. She graduated from Princeton in 2019 with a degree in anthropology.

This Twitter Bot Alerts LA Residents to Open Vaccine Appointments
Photo by Hakan Nural on Unsplash

A 24-year-old unemployed college graduate frustrated by the tedious process of finding his grandmother a vaccine appointment created a new site to make it easier.

Find My Vax LA translates appointment information to any language, searches for open slots by zip code and on Friday released a Twitter bot that alerts followers of availability.

Andrew Friedman was hit with the same idea software engineers across the country have chased since public officials started distributing the COVID-19 shot.


"Frankly it's hard to access resources," said Friedman, who studied political science and computer science at the University of Chicago. "We really want to make sure we're getting this in the hands of the people that need it most. And the people that are currently not served as well by the current system."

The goal, he said, is to "augment" L.A. County's efforts to help people sign up for appointments.

"The current system does favor people who are from wealthier backgrounds, who have more technological literacy."

Since L.A. received its first shipments of COVID-19 vaccines, booking appointments has become an obstacle for many. The confusing and often weekslong process has translated to steep inequities across the city.

"A lot of people said they were only able to get an appointment because they had their husbands and three of their kids spending hours watching these websites and refreshing to get a slot," said Kristen Choi, a nurse and UCLA assistant professor of health policy and management.

"It means that the only people who can get the appointment are those with the luxury of time and people to help them find one," she said. "Those appointments are disproportionately going to the wealthiest and whitest communities."

Vaccination rates in Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Brentwood are double the rates in East and South L.A.— the "places that lost the most from COVID," Choi said.

Find My Vax LA was inspired by a similar citizen-run resource in New York called TurboVax. Built by Airbnb software engineer Huge Ma, the site sends out real-time information about appointments on Twitter. Since late January, the account has amassed over 97,000 followers.

On Friday, Friedman launched his own Twitter bot. In the first hour, it churned out six updates listing 67 appointments. He programmed the bot to tweet about every new availability. Down the line—if supply in L.A. improves—he might change the threshold.

"I'm open to feedback," he said. "It's really just based on what people's needs are. Maybe it becomes an overwhelming number of tweets."

Like the alerts from TurboVax and LA Public Health, @Findmyvaxla_bot blasts out direct links to websites with open slots. And he's working on a plan to tweet in other languages, too.

Running the web application will cost Friedman anywhere from $50 to $100 each month, a bit more than necessary. But his eyes are set on the next few months, when the city will open eligibility to new tiers. Around 1,000 L.A. residents have visited the website since it went live late last month.

"I want to make sure that if there's ever rapid usage, that it can handle it," he said. "And make sure it won't go down."

The platform continuously scans a slew of websites for appointments through a process called 'scraping'. Unlike VaccinateCA, a similar volunteer-operated effort hinged on calling hospitals and clinics for that data, his system can update itself every few minutes.

But there are a few limitations to what Find My Vax LA can do. It might miss the open slots that don't get listed online, an issue VaccinateCA is tackling by calling those locations manually. Meanwhile, the threat of bots scalping for vaccine appointments has pushed companies like Vons to ramp up cyber protections.

Friedman's system can't get past those new blocks, so Vons and Walgreens are listed under a "Possible Availability" tab to indicate that users might try reaching those locations directly.

The site is hosted by Heroku, a cloud platform that Friedman says makes sharing his code easy. Across the nation, new appointment finding services are popping up almost weekly as a supplement to county-run sites. This week, a software engineer in Denver launched Vaccine Spotter. And volunteers in Washington state built CovidWA, an effort now supported by the state's department of health.

"If someone would like to build their own for their own municipality, we're really excited to share how we did this," said Friedman.

https://twitter.com/frosebillington
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The Impact of Authentic Storytelling. LA Latino/a Founders and Funders Tell All

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

The Impact of Authentic Storytelling. LA Latino/a Founders and Funders Tell All
Decerry Donato

As one of the most diverse cities in the world, Los Angeles is home to almost 5 million people who identify as Hispanic or Latinx. Yet, many feel they still lack representation in the city’s tech space.

“I can safely say that last year’s LA tech week hosted all of the events on the west side, and very few were focused on telling Latino and Latina entrepreneurial stories,” said Valeria Martinez, investor at VamosVentures. “We wanted to change that this year.”

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LA Tech Week: Female Founders Provide Insights Into Their Startup Journeys

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

LA Tech Week: Female Founders Provide Insights Into Their Startup Journeys
Decerry Donato

Women remain a minority among startup founders. According to Pitchbook, even though women-led startups in the United States received a record $20.8 billion in funding during the first half of 2022, U.S. companies with one or more female founders received less than 20% of total venture funding in 2022. U.S. companies solely led by female founders received less than 2% of the total funding.

The panel, titled Female Founders: Planning, Pivoting, Profiting, was moderated by NYU law professor Shivani Honwad and featured Anjali Kundra, co-founder of bar inventory software Partender; Montré Moore, co-founder of the Black-owned beauty startup AMP Beauty LA; Mia Pokriefka, co-founder and CEO of the interactive social media tool Huxly; and Sunny Wu, founder and CEO of fashion company LE ORA.

The panelists shared their advice and insights on starting and growing a business as a woman. They all acknowledged feeling pressure to not appear weak among peers, especially as a female founder. But this added weight only causes more stress that may lead to burnout.

“The mental health aspect of being a founder should not be overshadowed,” said Kundra, who realized this during the early stages of building her company with her brother..

Growing up in Silicon Valley, Kundra was surrounded by the startup culture where, “everyone is crushing it!” But she said that no one really opened up about the challenges of starting your own company. .

“Once you grow up as a founder in that environment, it's pretty toxic,” Kundra said. “I felt like I really wanted to be open and be able to go to our investors and tell them about challenges because businesses go up and down, markets go up and down and no company is perfect.”

Honwad, who advocates for women’s rights, emphasized the value of aligning yourself with people with similar values in the tech ecosystem. “[Those people] can make your life better not just from an investment and money standpoint, but also a personal standpoint, because life happens,” she said.

Moore, who unexpectedly lost one of her co-founders at AMP Beauty, said that entrepreneurs “really have to learn how to adapt to [their] circumstances.”

“She was young, healthy, vibrant and we've been sorority sisters and friends over the past decade,” she said about her co-founder Phyllicia Phillips, who passed away in February. “So it was just one of those moments where you have to take a pause.”

Moore said this experience forced her to ask for help, which many founders hesitate to do. She encouraged the audience to try and share their issues out loud with their teams because there are always people who will offer help. When Moore shared her concerns with her investors, they jumped in to support her in ways she didn’t think was possible.

Kundra said that while it is important to have a support group and listen to mentors, it is very important for entrepreneurs to follow their own thinking and pick and choose what they want to implement within their strategy. “At the end of the day, you really have to own your own decisions,” she said.

Kundra also said that while it is easy to turn to your colleagues and competitors and do what they are doing, you shouldn’t always follow them because every business is different.

“When I was in the heat of it, I kind of became [a part of] this echo chamber and that was really challenging for us,” Kundra added, “but we were able to move beyond it and figure out what worked for us [as a company] and we're still on a journey. You're always going to be figuring it out, so just know you're not alone.”

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