Mondo News

All of the latest tech and science news from all over the world.

Covid-19 Vaccines: Dr. B Website Will Match You With Leftover Doses

More than half a million people have signed up for Dr. B, a service that promises to match them with clinics struggling to equitably dole out extra doses before they expire.

In the hustle to score an elusive vaccine appointment, the leftover dose has become the stuff of pandemic lore.

In every case, if the leftover dose does not find an available arm, it must go into the trash.

Now, a New York-based start-up is aiming to add some order to the rush for leftover doses. Dr. B, as the company is known, is matching vaccine providers who find themselves with extra vaccines to people who are willing to get one at a moment’s notice.

Since the service began last month, more than 500,000 people have submitted a host of personal information to sign up for the service, which is free to join and is also free to providers. Two vaccine sites have begun testing the program, and the company said about 200 other providers had applied to participate.

Dr. B is just one attempt at coordinating the chaotic patchwork of public and private websites that allow eligible people to find vaccine appointments. Critics have said the current system is confusing, unreliable and often requires access to the internet, as well as the time to prowl websites for the rare appointment. In many places, it also largely ignores people who aren’t yet eligible for a shot, wasting the opportunity to get them on a formal waiting list.

While Dr. B does not solve all of those broader problems, if it scales up the way some hope that it will, it could serve as a model for a better, more equitable way of scheduling vaccinations.

“I think that’s a great idea,” said Sharon Whisenand, the administrator of the Randolph County Health Department in rural Missouri.

Dr. B is a for-profit effort, set up as a public-benefit corporation that includes efficient and equitable vaccine distribution in its mission. But its founder, Cyrus Massoumi, a tech entrepreneur, hasn’t yet described Dr. B’s business model. He said he was financing the project out of his own pocket and had no plans to collect revenue. The company is named after his grandfather, who was nicknamed Dr. Bubba and became a doctor during the 1918 influenza pandemic.

“Ultimately, patients need this vaccine, and there’s providers who need help getting it to the people of priority,” Mr. Massoumi said in an interview. “That’s my motivation.”

After coming up with the idea for Dr. B in January, Mr. Massoumi recruited several engineers from Haven, a now-defunct health care collaboration among Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and J.P. Morgan, to build its website and underlying database. Amazon also donated web services, Mr. Massoumi said.

The half a million people who have signed up for the service entered basic biographical information, such as their date of birth, address, underlying health conditions and the type of work they do. If vaccine providers near them have extra doses, they will get notified via text message and have 15 minutes to respond. Then they must be willing to quickly travel to the vaccination site.

The company’s database sorts people by local rules about vaccine priority, giving providers better odds of administering their leftover shots to those in the greatest need.

For many providers, that orderly procedure would be a welcome change from the haphazard systems they are using now. At some pharmacies and supermarket chains, workers have resorted to combing the shopping aisles to find people willing to get a last-minute vaccine. At other locations, vaccine hopefuls wait in line at the end of every shift, which could pose an infection risk, particularly to the most vulnerable.

Mr. Massoumi said he had taken several steps to ensure that the service will be equitable. That has included turning down early media requests from mainstream publications and instead promoting Dr. B on Zoom calls with representatives for groups like Black churches and Native American community groups, given that the pandemic has disproportionately affected nonwhite groups.

“It was really important for him to let these communities have potentially a place at the front of the line, or to get the information early,” said Brooke Williams, who is Black and a member of the Resistance Revival Chorus in New York. She joined one of the early Zoom calls and began spreading the word.

“Hearing about shots that were getting thrown out was just heartbreaking and infuriating,” she said.

The service suffers, however, from some of the same barriers that have marred vaccination efforts so far. Although signing up is simple, doing so requires an internet connection as well as ready access to a cellphone. Because of the last-minute nature of leftover doses, participants must have flexible schedules and access to transportation.

“It’s still heavily internet dependent, so it will depend on who hears about it,” said Arthur Caplan, a medical ethicist at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine. “It seems he’s trying to solve a problem and do some good, but I’m sad that governments — counties, cities, national organizations — didn’t prepare for this and then didn’t react more quickly to give advice and guidance.”

He noted that the program’s setup, which allows people to sign up, then wait for a notification based on priority, is better than other sites that require hours of refreshing websites in the odds they may luck into a rare opening.

For Brittany Marsh, who owns a pharmacy in Little Rock, Ark., figuring out what to do with leftover doses was a daily headache.

She said the number of no-shows had increased as vaccines have become more available, and others have had to cancel at the last minute because they developed Covid-19 or were exposed to someone who did. Although sometimes people do call, she said, “more times than not, we just have a no-show.”

Ms. Marsh has been testing Dr. B’s service for a few weeks and said it saved her workers the hassle of calling a waiting list of other customers to quickly fill the open slots. With Dr. B, she said, “I know that they’re calling at least what we think is the right group of people to come get those shots, so that we don’t have to ever waste any.”

Dr. B has revealed few details about which providers have expressed interest in using its platform, other than to say the providers are based in 30 states and include doctors’ offices, pharmacies and the medical departments at large academic institutions.

The company collects sensitive personal information that it vows to closely safeguard, even though, because the company is not itself a medical provider, the data is not protected by the federal health care privacy law known as HIPAA.

When asked about his long-term plans for the company, Mr. Massoumi demurred, noting that the race to vaccinate was not going to end anytime soon.

“Right now, we just want to get the vaccines allocated in the best possible way,” he said. “I can’t think of a better use of money to help solve the pandemic, so we’re just heads down, focused on that.”

See where doses have gone, and who is eligible for a shot in each state.

Category: Science

Source: New York Times

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: