(WASHINGTON) — As the Biden administration continues to reach out to Americans who remain unvaccinated, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are launching a text messaging service, website and toll-free hotline to make the search easier, accurate and accessible.
Part of the effort includes taking over the popular VaccineFinder.org as a government site to make finding a vaccination location less time-consuming. Some of the features resulting from this launch include assistance provided in more than 150 languages as well as the ability to text or call a hotline number to immediately find the nearest available vaccination centers.
VaccineFinder.org has transitioned to become vaccines.gov, an HHS- and CDC-supported site, to help Americans in every corner of the country schedule a vaccine. This new website will be available in both English and Spanish (vacunas.gov). The old address will still point you in the direction of the government site.
“As we work to increase access to the COVID-19 vaccines, these tools will eliminate burdens and help make it easier to find vaccination sites,” Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, said in a statement. “By making it easier to find a vaccine, we will help people take a big step towards protecting themselves against COVID-19 and returning to their lives.”
Americans can now text their ZIP code to GETVAX (438829) in English or VACUNA (822862) in Spanish to immediately receive addresses of nearby available vaccination centers.
To improve access to vaccines, especially for people with limited internet connection, language barriers or the inability to text, the HHS and CDC have launched a National COVID-19 Vaccination Assistance Hotline, at an upcoming 800 number.
The federal effort to broaden access comes as the entire United States is now allowing vaccinations for everyone 16 and older — with the younger population tending to favor texting.
“We are trying to meet people where they are,” said Dr. John Brownstein, one of the founders of VaccineFinder.org, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Boston’s Children’s Hospital and an ABC News Medical contributor. “Through that, we made enhancements with translations, and many more locations being displayed.”
VaccineFinder was created by Brownstein and Boston Children’s Hospital nearly eight years ago after the development of vaccines against the H1N1, or swine flu, epidemic. The website served as a one-stop shop to navigate not just swine flu vaccines, but also ones for shingles and influenza. It had been recently begun to be used for COVID-19 vaccinations.
“It cuts down the amount of time for people looking for vaccines,” said Brownstein. The site labels locations as in or out of stock of the vaccine to help avoid booking an appointment at a location that ran out of supply.
Those searching the website will enter their zip code, and can adjust the search radius to find locations nearest to them. Other options include searching for specific vaccines, such as Moderna or Johnson & Johnson.
This three-pronged approach of utilizing websites, calling and texting should come as welcoming news for those in rural areas, as well as those who have had to use multiple sites just to schedule an appointment.
Ultimately, the goal is to give every American the opportunity to be vaccinated.
“It’s all about vaccine equity at this point,” said Brownstein. “It’s making sure that those people who have been left behind can get vaccinated and hope that this tool can help with that. This is trying to simplify that process.”
Alexis E. Carrington, M.D., is a dermatology resident at George Washington University and a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.
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