Scheduling Apps Have Been Around a Long Time, So Why’s It So Hard To Book a COVID Vaccine Appointment?

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.

Scheduling Apps Have Been Around a Long Time, So Why’s It So Hard To Book a COVID Vaccine Appointment?
Photo by Ben Bergman/ dot.LA

Los Angeles residents scrambling to book vaccination appointments by refreshing their web browsers and flooding hotline numbers are out of luck. By Monday, most appointments on city and county-run websites were taken for the week.

It took just 10 minutes for thousands of reservations to get snapped up on L.A. city's appointment site run by Carbon Health last week.

"The experience has been a little bit like trying to get Rolling Stones tickets," said Sujal Mandavia, the chief medical officer of the San Francisco-based company.

As the city and county update their respective sites with new appointment slots, many eligible for the vaccine are hitting roadblocks — some users seeing appointment times that, in reality, have already been booked. The county is receiving about 160,000 doses each week. According to the state's epidemiologist, vaccinating the region's estimated 1.3 million people over 65 will take until June.

The rush to schedule vaccinations for health care workers, residents of nursing homes and, now, people 65 and older will serve as a logistical trial for a larger roll out expected over the coming months. It's become a test of tech providers' ability to build platforms that match the steady wave of traffic.

"It's just been very difficult because of the overwhelming demand," Mandavia said.

On Monday, Carbon Health's website announced that it was not taking new appointments at all. And L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said there were no available appointments at county-supported sites through the end of this week. She hopes new slots will be added for Saturday and Sunday.

Patchwork Approach

Without a national strategy for testing or vaccination rollout, cities and municipalities are relying on healthcare and tech companies to digitize tasks from booking appointments to storing medical information.

On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a new statewide appointment management site called My Turn.

The platform — built by Salesforce, Accenture and Skedulo — is piloting in Los Angeles and San Diego. It's designed to inform California residents whether they are eligible and, if so, to send them notifications about available slots.

A venture-backed startup founded in 2013, Skedulo has been scheduling appointments for the American Red Cross and supporting coronavirus testing efforts with New Jersey-based BioReference Labs. The majority of its revenue comes from healthcare clients, marketing executive vice president Miles Kelly said, making the company "relatively prepared for the critical mass rollout on the vaccination side."

Navigating the Tech

Kelly said the company has strived to "make something that is super-sophisticated come across as relatively straightforward or simple."

"One of the biggest issues we're experiencing now is that the people that we are striving to get vaccinated are not necessarily those who would be digitally native," said Shira Shafir, a UCLA associate professor of epidemiology.

But even younger people familiar with the internet are struggling to make appointments online.

On Sunday, Shafir saw an email for open appointments and rushed to My Turn to book a slot for her 80-year-old doctoral advisor "knowing with certainty he would not be able to do so."

The website crashed, then listed times that she wasn't able to reserve.

"You look to platforms booking tickets for very in-demand concerts and there are certainly wait lists and people pushing refresh, refresh, refresh," Shafir said. "This is not a new phenomenon, though it might be new to public health."

The city's appointment site will stay up even as My Turn is rolled out across the county. Carbon Health entered the deal to help L.A. schedule its vaccine appointments after working on the city's testing efforts. In a little over a week, the $175 million venture-backed company built the platform to list every open appointment offered at five city-run vaccination sites.

"We have really bulked up our network server resources so that we're able to handle any variation in volume," Mandavia said.

But things could get even more complicated. Johnson & Johnson's vaccine is reportedly inching closer to approval, a development that could pose other challenges, said CORE CEO and co-founder Ann Lee. The nonprofit group operates vaccination pop-ups in L.A. including the Dodger Stadium location.

"It's just a one-dose vaccination which makes life easier, but how do you deal with two different types of vaccines on the same site?" she said.

Lee is reminding residents that most appointment-booking issues have to do with supply and demand. There just aren't enough vaccines available for everyone eligible to get one.

"The thing I have been telling the people I care about is the minute they get the notification that appointments are available, they do need to drop everything," Shafir said. "There are very few things on anybody's calendar that would be more important than getting to a vaccination site."

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.