The state has launched a new tool for locating available COVID-19 vaccine appointments, an attempt to streamline the much-maligned booking process that's been in place for residents 75 years old and up.
The new centralized COVID-19 Vaccine Finder search tool works through frequently updated data from most vaccination centers in the state and displays them by location for a user to then choose a site they prefer. The system then shows a link directly to that provider's appointment page. Until now, a user would have to attempt to book an appointment at each individual site without knowing whether or not they had any supplies.
It's still not the one-stop booking system that many in the health care community and legislature are calling for, but Gov. Charlie Baker's office says it will eliminate a big barrier for those seeking the vaccine.
"It's actually a very simple improvement, but it looks to me like it works. You can go online, see which mass vaccination center has availability, and then you can make your appointment," Rep. Ruth Balser (D-Netwon) told GBH News Friday.
Sen. Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) also welcomed the new tool, but says Baker needs to step up the pace of improving the system before larger categories of residents become eligible.
"I do think that more needs to be done and it needs to be done quickly. We are still light years behind other states in terms of the vaccine rollout," DiZoglio said.
DiZoglio is the author of a bill that would force Baker to create a pre-registration system where residents could find their place in line before being eligible, then be alerted when an appointment is available. She hopes new committees established by Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ron Mariano focused on the CVOID response and oversight will be able to alter Baker's plans.
"If the governor is not going to implement the measures that it's going to take to get organized and end the confusion, then the Legislature needs to step up quickly and pass legislation to hold the administration accountable in these areas where there are shortfalls," DiZoglio said.
Project Beacon began developing the new tool about two weeks ago when the state launched Phase 2 of its vaccine roll-out and extended eligibility to those 75 years of age and older. The public vaccine appointment booking system was criticized for its decentralized structure that forced users to sign up and try their luck at multiple providers, often without knowing if they had any appointments available.
A developer with Project Beacon said the vaccine supply data will be no more than five minutes old at any point using the site. The project will continue to add providers, many of which do not yet publicize their available doses.
The state's eligibility checker, the tool that tells a user when they can access the vaccine based on age and medical data, will remain unchanged.