Biden Team Launches Website, Text Messages to Locate Vaccines
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden’s administration has launched a website, text-message tool and phone hotline to link Americans with Covid-19 shots near them as the pace of vaccination in the U.S. has plateaued.
An existing vaccine locater site, VaccineFinder.org, has relaunched as Vaccines.gov, along with a new Spanish-language equivalent, Vacunas.gov. People in the U.S. will be able to text their ZIP code to GETVAX (438829) or VACUNA (822862) to see locations near them with available doses, or call a toll-free number with service in more than 150 languages.
“We want to make it as easy as possible for people to get vaccinated,” Surgeon General 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.”
The move comes as U.S. vaccination levels plateau, signaling a diminishing pool of people who will actively seek out shots. In the past week, an average of 2.63 million doses a day have been administered, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker, compared with a high of 3 million a day several weeks ago. The campaign is now shifting focus to those who are either skeptical about vaccination or are harder to reach.
Jeff Zients, Biden’s Covid-19 response coordinator, said at a briefing Friday that it’s anticipated there will be “more of a balance” between supply and demand as the vaccination campaign moves forward.
“What’s unexpected is how fast we’ve gotten here. We know this next phase won’t be easy, but neither was getting to 220 million shots in arms in the first 100 days,” he said. “This next phase is very focused on making it even easier, continuing to build vaccine confidence and ensuring equity for all Americans.”
Vaccine appointments in the U.S. until now have involved a relatively ad hoc patchwork of states, cities and pharmacies that take bookings directly. The new federal initiatives are aimed at building on that.
The administration focused initially on boosting supply, with the idea that national websites weren’t useful if there weren’t enough shots available, an official familiar with the development of the vaccine program said. Now that supply has increased, the administration is turning its attention to building more channels to link people with shots, the official said.
Biden described this as a “new phase” in announcing that the country had hit his goal of administering 200 million shots in his first 100 days. The president didn’t set a new goal.
The U.S. has administered 237 million doses so far, including just over 16 million under the Trump administration, with 55% of the adult population having received at least one dose.
The website, phone line and text-message tool will be targeted to hard-to-reach people or areas. The phone number will be touted in rural areas with spotty Internet coverage and the text tool on digital ads for younger people. The measures are aimed in particular at younger people, those living in rural areas and people of color, the official said.
The Biden administration has consulted behavioral economists for advice, and was told to remove friction from the process, the official said.
The website allows people to select one, two or all of the three authorized U.S. vaccines, from Pfizer Inc., Moderna Inc. and Johnson & Johnson. Early data show that the vast majority of users choose all three, the official said.
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