Need a COVID Vaccine? This Man's Website Will Tell You When a Nearby Clinic Has a Dose for You
In early January, Cyrus Massoumi was chatting with a friend about his concern over reports of the haphazard way vaccine providers were having to scramble at the end of each day to find recipients of extra coronavirus vaccine doses due to no shows — and those lucky enough to score one.
"Somebody who just happens to be in the right place at the right time, we're all hearing stories about this," Massoumi recalls to PEOPLE. "Someone buying something in a pharmacy or walking down the street, or maybe having the financial or physical ability to queue up outside a vaccine site. Or a relative or friend of the provider."
If a taker isn't found, the doses must be thrown away, because they would expire.
Out of this conversation, the tech entrepreneur, who co-founded the online doctor and dentist booking service Zocdoc, had an epiphany: Why not put some order in this chaos by creating a website that matches those daily extra doses with a standby waitlist of eligible people seeking a shot and ready to get it within minutes? And why not give the doses to those highest on the list of each state's criteria list first?
Within weeks, Massoumi assembled a team of engineers to create the site, called Dr. B for his grandfather, a physician nicknamed Dr. Bubba who practiced during the 1918 flu pandemic.
As of Wednesday morning, more than 200 clinics and pharmacies in 30 states had registered to be connected with the 1.9 million people across the country who have signed up on the Dr.B website, hidrb.com, for alerts when a dose becomes available.
Dr. B is currently helping people get vaccinated through a pharmacy in Arkansas, a site in New York and another location, which the company does not wish to reveal. The remaining 200-plus vaccination sites are expected to be using Dr. B in the "coming weeks," Massoumi told USA Today.
"I feel like this is my obligation," Massoumi, 44, who lives in Manhattan and sits on the board of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, tells PEOPLE. "It's like if I didn't do something, I'm not sure I could live with myself."
Brittany Marsh, 34, the pharmacist-owner of the Cornerstone Pharmacy - Rodney Parham in Little Rock, Arkansas, found that during the last hour or two of each day, vials were open with leftover doses due to no-shows or cancellations. She and her staff then had to scramble to "get the shots into arms" by calling their waitlist of customers.
But last month, Marsh became the first vaccine provider in the country to pilot Dr. B. Now as the day ends, she sends a message to Dr. B noting how many extra doses she has and the time they need to be used by.
Dr. B then uses an algorithm to sift through its list of people near Marsh's pharmacy, and alerts them via a text that a shot is available.
Within 15 to 30 minutes, says Marsh, the slots are filled and people are usually in the door of the her pharmacy within the hour.
"It's impacted us greatly," says Marsh. "We've filled every single gap."
Massoumi, who also founded a site that reunites lost dogs with their owners, comes from a family of physicians — his grandfather, father and sister are all doctors. His mother, who ran his dad's medical practice, wanted her son to be a doctor.
"Not being good at organic chemistry, not being a doctor, not filling my mother's desire of me being a physician, I was literally the black sheep," he says, smiling. "But I know what I can do to help people. I'm not the kind of person who feels comfortable just sitting around and being helpless."
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Are they proud now, even if he's not a doctor?
"I think so," he says, laughing. "They won't admit it to me directly. My mom won't admit it to me directly, but yes."
Massoumi is funding the venture out of his own pocket, but won't say how much he's laid out to cover the salaries of his 17 employees.
"It's not cheap," he says. "I've been fortunate that I've been involved in a number of companies that have been successful and I can't think of a better use of money."
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