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Iowa programmers step in to fill hole left by state for vaccine appointments

Two separate tech-savvy Iowa dads saw the need for Iowans to have better access to real-time data about vaccine appointments.

IOWA, USA — After searching for appointments for loved ones and himself, Brian Finley thought he could put his programming skills to use and help other Iowans find available COVID-19 vaccine appointments.

In a matter of days, Finley, a dad out of Iowa City, created a Twitter account that uses data from local pharmacies and sends out automatic alerts when vaccine appointments are available.

So instead of hitting the refresh button for hours or waiting up until midnight to get an open slot, like so many Iowans have told Local 5 is their current practice, Finley's Twitter feed makes it easy to see in real-time where appointments are open in Iowa.

"Some places have provided that information willingly, some other places take a little bit of clicking around to get that data," said Finley. "Now it's taken off."

The account, Iowa Vaccine Alerts, has more than 3,600 followers after going live on Wednesday. 

Some 115 miles west in Ankeny, Todd Brady had a similar thought process. He also heard of people getting frustrated with Iowa's state-run website, vaccinate.iowa.gov

Last month, Gov. Kim Reynolds said the state would no longer be seeking a vendor to stand up a state-based vaccine scheduling website.

RELATED: Reynolds' administration pulls plug on call center that would help Iowans register for vaccine

"It just took you to the provider but it didn't provide you appointments," said Brady.  "So I figured I could somehow fix that and create a process to take people directly to available appointments."

Brady's website, Vaccine Hunter, aggregates data in a similar way to Finley's process, but instead of spitting out constant updates through social media, it brings up a list of all the locations in the state where the vaccine is currently available. 

Users can pinpoint vaccine appointments in their area as well by typing in a zip code. 

"The stories I hear of Iowans getting an appointment are awesome," said Brady. 

One of those success stories is Brian Steffen, a professor at Simpson College. He heard of Brady's website through social media and immediately logged on to find an appointment.

Steffen was willing to drive anywhere in Iowa to get an appointment. So he gladly took the 250-mile roundtrip journey to Fairfield for his shot this week.

"I would have driven anywhere, anywhere to get the shot," said Steffen. "Now at least I got it."

Brady and Finley's efforts to file a hole in the state's response to vaccine appointments are appreciated by many they assist. Neither are paid for their services.

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