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Secrets of a Covid-19 Vaccine-Appointment Master: Advice for Any State

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Alerts and web-browser tools can help you book a Covid-19 vaccine appointment. WSJ’s Joanna Stern met up with Kris Slevens, an IT guy who has booked over 300 appointments for New Jersey seniors, to learn the best tricks to compete in the vaccine-booking Hunger Games. Photo illustration: Emil Lendof for The Wall Street Journal

Video Transcript


KRIS SLEVENS: All set. 265 vaccination appointments booked.

JOANNA STERN: Allow me to clarify. That's over 200 COVID vaccine appointments booked by this guy.

KRIS SLEVENS: Hi. I'm Kris Slevens. I'm an unemployed IT geek from New Jersey. Doing my best to secure COVID vaccine appointments for seniors in my community.

JOANNA STERN: In case you haven't had the pleasure of booking a COVID vaccine online, it can suck. And not only for people who aren't great at computers.

- I just found a COVID vaccine appointment for an 80-year-old family friend on Rite Aid. And then a couple of minutes later, it was gone. I just feel like I don't know how to work the internet.

JOANNA STERN: The websites all differ. They're hard to navigate. And appointments are very limited.

KRIS SLEVENS: Honestly, I'd equate it to a joint sneaker release between Beyonce and Coldplay that included free concert tickets. It's a shame, but that's where we are. Due to the fragmented rollout.

JOANNA STERN: Kris first set out to book 71 appointments for seniors. 71 for his father, who passed away last year at the age of 71. Possibly from COVID itself. But after Kris had a booking system in place, he just kept going. So I decided to go study under the master and get his best tips on booking appointments.

Good. Nice to meet you.

KRIS SLEVENS: Nice to meet you. I'm Kris.

JOANNA STERN: How intense is it, in this world of vaccine booking?

KRIS SLEVENS: Right now, we're at a point where milliseconds matter. Where-- that's why I always try and suggest using a desktop or laptop over a mobile phone.

JOANNA STERN: And don't worry if you don't live here in New Jersey. I was able to use his tips to book appointments in New York, Maryland, and Florida. Plus, I had Kris highlight specific tips for nationwide pharmacy sites, such as Rite Aid and CVS. OK. Onto the tips.

Step one, bookmark the websites and learn the patterns. Gather and bookmark the links to the websites that allow you to make appointments in your area.

KRIS SLEVENS: My best suggestion would be check your state resources. Or if there are Facebook groups, such as ours in New Jersey. We post every single availability in real-time.

JOANNA STERN: In some states, there have been aggregation sites built that list all the vaccine locations. Facebook groups can also be very helpful for knowing the patterns when new appointments are added.

KRIS SLEVENS: CVS, I would always suggest checking at 5:00 AM to 6:00 AM. That's when they load appointments. For Rite Aid, I would suggest always checking at 11:50 PM at night.

JOANNA STERN: Do you sleep at all?

KRIS SLEVENS: Most recently, not a lot. Maybe two or three hours a night.

JOANNA STERN: Rite Aid and CVS would not confirm those appointment drop times. But I had similar luck at booking around then.

Step two, set up autofill in your web browser.

KRIS SLEVENS: You're able to fill your address, name, phone number, and email address ahead of time be it in Chrome or any other web browser you have. So when it comes time to click that booking, you can automatically fill that information without having to type it all in one go.

JOANNA STERN: All browsers have this. In Chrome, go to Preferences, Autofill, Addresses, and More. In Microsoft Edge, go to Preferences, Personal Info. In Safari, Preferences, Autofill.

One thing you cannot autofill? Your insurance information. But you can skip putting that info in all together on sites like Rite Aid and CVS.

Step three, set up browser extensions. Now you're ready to book. Just the little problem of figuring out when the websites have appointments. Two tools Kris uses are necessary.

The first, a browser refresh extension called Page Refresh. This allows you to refresh the site every few seconds or minutes without any clicking. So you can see if it's been updated with new appointment times.

Kris keeps these windows open on his second monitor so he can see them at all times. This extension is available for Chrome and Microsoft Edge. And the developer clearly states the extension doesn't collect any user data.

KRIS SLEVENS: Keep the page refreshing, but make sure to also keep the extension open. So you could stop it in an instant and get started on booking.

JOANNA STERN: If you don't hit Stop, it could refresh the page and you could lose the appointment opening.

The second tool is really cool. It's called Visualping. You input a website and you tell it to watch a certain part of it-- an image or text. If there's a change to it, it will alert you with an email. You can also use the free extension and get alerted with a sound.

KRIS SLEVENS: Every website will say there are no appointments available. If you go in, select that element in Visualping, have it alert you when that's gone, you'll be able to score an appointment easily.

JOANNA STERN: I did that on this website here and was able to book an appointment that way. The downside is that you have to upgrade to one of the higher tiers to have the tool watch for changes to your site every five minutes. The web extension is free, but you have to be a computer to be notified.

Do you think that when we publish this by next week, you'll hit 300?

KRIS SLEVENS: Easily. Until it gets as easy to schedule a COVID vaccine shot as a flu shot, I'm going to be continuing. As rough as it is, it's a good feeling to be able to get a senior an appointment who would not have been able to otherwise.