Vaccine standby list will text you when excess dose is available

BOSTON — A standby list for the COVID-19 vaccine is now live in Massachusetts, allowing people to sign up to receive an excess dose before it goes to waste.

Cyrus Massoumi, founder of Dr. B, told Boston 25 News more than 2.4 million people have signed up across 29 states for the free service, which launched in January and began its pilot program in February.

The website connects people unable get a vaccine appointment with health care providers who have extra doses due to cancellations and no-shows.

“We have the most scarce resource on earth. Everyone wants it for their friends and their family and themselves,” Massoumi said. “And we have vaccine providers working around the clock trying to just get the country and the world vaccinated.”

Those looking to sign up enter their names and contact and medical information on the website. The process takes about 90 seconds, Massoumi said.

“Any vaccine provider that has excess doses can simply indicate how many doses, when they expire and we’ll automatically text message the appropriate number of people in any area to make sure that all the doses accounted for,” Massoumi said.

Because the vaccine expires fast, once a person receives a text message notification that a dose is available, they generally have 15 minutes to confirm their appointment.

“The vaccine providers tell us how much time is left, and hopefully, if there’s a few hours, we can give people 15 minutes. And that’s one dose per text message,” Massoumi said. “But if there’s only 30 minutes left and there’s a lot of vaccine about to go to waste, we have to text message a lot of people and make it available on a first-come-first-served basis.”

The standby process prevents people from having to wait in a never-ending online queue or hope to get lucky, he said.

“The scenarios that were happening where people who happen to be in the right place at the right time, buying potato chips at the pharmacy, were getting their shots ahead of a grandparent who might need it,” Massoumi said. “Or people who are physically or financially able to queue up somewhere for an extended period of time would get the shots. But of course, those aren’t necessarily the people who need it most as well.”

Massoumi called the service a Plan B, urging people first to reach out to health care providers and public health officials for their shots.

Massoumi, whose family members are nearly all medical doctors, settled on the name, Dr. B, in honor of his maternal grandfather. Lovingly called Dr. Bubba, his grandfather was a doctor in France during the Spanish Flu and dedicated his life to bridging the gaps in health care more than 100 years ago, Massoumi said.

Fittingly, Massoumi said, Dr. B helps eliminate the health inequities in communities of color hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.

While you can sign up for Dr. B regardless of your eligibility in your state, the website uses each state’s eligibility criteria to prioritize those most at risk.

“The problem is, you have a 65-year-old person in a vulnerable community who was previously hesitant who decides they now want to get the vaccine and they can’t hit refresh 1,000 times a second, like the 30-year-old who is now able to go book,” Massoumi said of the problem he aims to solve. “And so they’re constantly at a systemic advantage as a result of that.”

While Dr. B is not covered under Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act guidelines, Massoumi said he and his team, who have decades of experience in technology involving health care, operate as if users’ medical information is HIPAA-protected.

“Everything from having bank-level encryption to making sure that we’ve employed best practices over who internally can access data and how that all that works,” Massoumi said.

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