Erick Katzenstein after his first shot. (Erick Katzenstein)

Delaware native helps frustrated Americans quickly find vaccines

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Erick Katzenstein after his first shot. (Erick Katzenstein)

Erick Katzenstein after his first shot. (Erick Katzenstein)

 

Erick Katzenstein is happily watching the plummeting popularity of GetMyVaccine, going from 200,000 page views a day in March to a fifth of that in April.

“I would like this site to become obsolete as soon as possible,” said Katzenstein, 34, a Delaware native and Twitter software engineer who built the life-saver in his free time.

The first client was his mother, Wilmington resident Christine Waisanen. She become eligible for the coronavirus vaccine on Jan. 25, and she quickly became frustrated trying to find a shot. Her son quickly came to the rescue, with a site scaled to the cloud two days later.

“People were banging their heads against the wall, and there was no need to bottleneck with an unusable user interface,” he said. “People would genuinely give up on the process.”

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At the time, only one Delaware pharmacy had shots, he said. “I looked under the hood of Walgreens’ API and wrote a script to check for appointments every minute.”

Thanks to 600 hours of his devotion and more effort from other volunteers, GetMyVaccine today does far more, all starting with a friendly prompt: “Enter your zip code, find COVID vaccine appointments at select pharmacies.” Users are sent to pharmacy websites, where they book the appointment.

“Select” is key. The site links to more than 50 chain pharmacies nationwide, but a third block his data collection process. “I’ve heard positive feedback from people over different channels: from individuals booking vaccines, to volunteers booking vaccines for others, to the CDC,” he said. “The only people I haven’t heard from are national pharmacies.”

One key volunteer has been Steve Salevan, another Tatnall alumnus and Twitter coworker. He “has been an invaluable advisor on network/scaling/infra[structure] for http://getmyvaccine.org,” wrote on Twitter. “He’s a brilliant engineer with impressive grit.”

Erick Katzenstein (right) with his mother and his brother's family on the porch of his childhood home in Delaware. (Erick Katzenstein)

Erick Katzenstein (right) with his mother and his brother’s family on the porch of his childhood home in Delaware. (Erick Katzenstein)

 

GetMyVaccine, VaccineSpotter and FindAShot are part of the Covid Collective, “a wonderful community of volunteers building similar sites for local/national vaccinations,” he said. “Our common mission is to reduce the complexity of vaccine search.”

“Donations on GetMyVaccine.org go towards keeping the site up and running — I want to make it clear that there isn’t any financial gain from this project.”

The vaccine situation has dramatically changed since GetMyVaccine began. Supply is catching up, and as of April 19, President Biden required all states to make all adults eligible for shots. Governments and influencers are striving to convince the reluctant to get shots.

Erick Katzenstein said that he would enjoy lending his tech expertise for other efforts that benefit America, such as analysis of political donations.

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He’s savored some personal expressions of gratitude. His father, Bob Katzenstein, touted his work to fellow members of the Delaware State Bar Association.

Alice Winkler (a Tatnall classmate and a now neighbor in Manhattan) and her mom (Jill Gaumer) sent cookies. “They were delicious and I’d be happy to help find her a vaccine anytime in exchange for cookies,” he said.

My Aunt Lisa also sent me yoga pants as a thank you gift. I didn’t expect that … and while I haven’t done any yoga in them, they’re my preferred lounging pants for working from home.”

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