In mid 2021 Australia had an acute vaccine shortage for various reasons, which meant vaccine
appointments were extremely hard to come by - NSW had just declared a national emergency.
To help Australia increase it's vaccination rate ASAP I built
GPVaccineSearch.com over a few weekends
in July/August, an open-source
(on Github) vaccine
appointment search engine, as a side project.
As of Jan 2022, 23k users visited the site, and 5,809 unique users started a HotDoc vaccine booking after using my site!
After the shortage eased in October 2021 and the government booking website improved traffic dropped off, but here is the story of how I built it!
Wanting to help Aussies get vaccinated as soon as possible, I searched for every possible data source (and considered
crowd-sourcing phone call responses). I found that HotDoc (a Melbourne healthcare booking company)
had lots of data on available bookings but had not yet built a way to search across clinics
for the soonest appointments.
Always keen for a side project I managed to deploy a headless Chromium instance to AWS Lambda to
walk through GPs near the user and find appointment times, and soon had a working demo. As you can
imagine, I was concerned about the load this would add to the HotDoc site and resources to run it
so I added strong rate limiting, but it's hard to emphasize how in demand vaccines were at the
time - I had friends asking me via social media to run queries for their location!
After posting on Reddit and sharing with a few friends, almost 2800 people visited on the first day.
The most requested feature was searching by postcode rather than geo-location: once I implemented
that I found most users preferred using that option. The Pfizer vaccine also became available via
GPs which further added to the surge of visitors.
I got in contact with a friend of a friend working at HotDoc so I could make sure they were
comfortable with myself using their data and API.
They were happy with the project and agreed my rate limiting threshold was well chosen, and
submitted a PR so they could track referrals. Altogether the experience of communicating with HotDoc
was excellent - they also emphasised how committed they are to helping Australians access vaccines.
After vaccines became more widely available visitors dropped off, though a smaller second wave
visited when I added booster search support.
Overall this was one of my favourite side projects I've built - it was a lot of fun to try and
throw my hat in the ring to make this problem a bit easier to solve. It really meant a lot to me
that I managed to help a few people in the process. Thanks for reading!
I think it's important to acknowledge the number of people who used gpvaccinesearch.com pales
in comparison to how many people found their vaccines using HotDoc itself - they've built a
truly brilliant product.
Currently, a side project I'm working on is Gatho (gatho.party),
a platform for hosting small events. It supports one click RSVP links for guests, and can
integrate with a Matrix group chat. It's open source and works great, let me know what you think!
Some more graphs of gpvaccinesearch.com, because everybody loves graphs!