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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The Twitter account that earlier this year started alerting Iowans to available COVID-19 vaccine appointments, garnering it thousands of followers in the midst of a chaotic vaccine roll out, has stopped sending the notices.
The Iowa City man behind the account, @IAVaccineAlerts, turned off the alerts Monday, stating they had served their purpose.
“The barriers that we have yet to overcome are not ones that can be solved on my Twitter account,” said Brian Finley. who created the account and the automated programming behind it.
[1/3] Well folks, I think it's time to turn off the alerts. There are shots everywhere, we just need people to get them, and I'm not smart enough to know how to make that happen, which feels pretty bad.— Iowa Vaccine Alerts (@IAVaccineAlerts) June 14, 2021
The @IAVaccineAlerts account launched March 10 as an individual’s attempt to create a centralized scheduling tool when one was not available from the state government. Finley, an application developer, created a program that aggregated data from various websites on available appointments. Once a vaccine appointment opened in Iowa, his Twitter accounted automatically tweeted out the specifics to tens of thousands of followers.
His idea quickly gained popularity in Iowa. The state opened a 211 call center helping Iowans navigate the process of getting an appointment, but did not establish a statewide centralized scheduling system.
Finley opened up Twitter accounts with alerts for available appointments in four other states, including Nebraska, Minnesota, Missouri and Illinois.
Following his announcement on Twitter that the account would stop tweeting out alerts, Finley received dozens of responses praising the effort. Many thanked him for helping them find shots for family and friends.
“My entire Iowa family is vaccinated because of your and your selfless efforts,” wrote one Twitter user.
Demand for the COVID-19 vaccine since has dropped sharply among Iowans, making the shot far more readily available than it was in the days when Finley started the alerts. Nowadays, walk-in appointments to get the shot are an option at many pharmacies and clinics across the state.
As a result, Finley has not been contacted by anyone looking for an appointment in recent weeks. At this point, he said he believes Iowans who have not received their COVID-19 vaccine would not seek out his account for help.
“There’s nothing technical or any cost coming out of my pocket, but now the hurdle is in education and convincing people to jump on board with this vaccine,” Finley said. “I’m just a dude with a Twitter account. We need people that can change minds.”
In recent weeks, counties across the state have turned down their allocations of shots from the state. Early this past month, Iowa turned down nearly three quarters of vaccine doses available to the state from the federal government because of that drop in demand.
Yet the percentage of vaccinated Iowans still is below the rate needed to reach herd immunity against the novel coronavirus. On Tuesday, nearly 44 percent of all Iowans were fully vaccinated against the virus, according to Iowa Department of Public Health data.
The vaccine effort has shifted from meeting the huge demand for the shot to encouraging more Iowans to take the vaccine, according to local public health officials.
While some Iowans still face barriers to obtaining a shot, such as a lack of transportation or language barriers, public health officials say misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine has played a role in preventing people from seeking out the shot in some parts of the state.
Finley said that effort is not something he can contribute to with his Twitter alerts.
“People who don’t want the vaccine are not following my account,” he said.
The @IAVaccineAlerts profile still is open, and Finley said he plans to keep the software in case there’s a need for booster shots or the account can fill another need.
Finley will be honored at a Project Better Together event Wednesday among other local leaders for their resiliency during the pandemic. Details for the event can be found at icareatogether.com. The project is a collaboration between the Iowa City Area Business Partnership, the Iowa City Area Development Group, the Iowa City Downtown District and Think Iowa City.
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