In the three weeks since Capital News Service launched a Maryland Vaccine Dashboard, over 4,000 unique visitors have accessed the site, which provides the latest information on COVID-19 vaccine eligibility and the location of vaccination sites in Baltimore and Maryland’s four most populated counties.
Here is the website: cnsmaryland.org/vaccine
Since January, Maryland has vaccinated 36% of eligible Marylanders with at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. While the state is doing better than the nation at administering the vaccine (the national rate was 29% as of March 31, according to National Public Radio), there are still great disparities among Maryland counties.
The disparities are believed to partly reflect the difficulty that residents face when trying to determine how and where to get vaccinated. There are vaccination sites managed by the state, counties, hospitals and pharmacies. Each entity has different rules, with information spread across multiple websites.
CNS wanted to cut through the confusion.
“It was clear that traditional news stories were not the best way to get this information to people,” said Adam Marton, CNS’s data and graphics bureau chief. “We decided to create a one-stop source of information, tools and data…a place where all the disparate information was collected on one easy-to-navigate website. Sometimes journalism isn’t just about reporting the news but using our access and skills for the public good.”
The dashboard covers the city of Baltimore and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. These are not only the state’s largest counties, but they also have the greatest number of African-American residents, who have lower rates of vaccination than other groups.
“There was a lot of thought put into if we are pushing this out to the … groups that needed it,” said Rachel Hunt, a student at the University of Maryland who helped develop the dashboard. Hunt is a journalism and public policy major.
When CNS started working on the project in early February, Hunt and fellow student Emma Grazado were tasked with the dashboard’s design and development. The next day, both students approached Marton with a preliminary design, and over the next month, they worked to turn the dashboard into its published form.
The dashboard is split into four sections that provide details on vaccination locations, answers frequently asked questions and provides statewide vaccination rates.
Users can also check whether appointments are available at four of the state’s mass vaccination sites: Six Flags in Prince George’s County, Regency Furniture Stadium in Charles County, the Baltimore Convention Center and Baltimore M&T Bank Stadium. This tool, developed by University of Maryland professor Sean Mussenden, is updated every 15 minutes.
The designers of the dashboard were especially focused on making the information accessible to those who are less tech-savvy, Hunt said. To help streamline the process, Hunt and Grazado added three extra buttons to each vaccination location, where site visitors can request a vaccine appointment, get directions and find more information about distribution methods.
“That was really valuable because the pre-registration process hasn’t been streamlined much,” Hunt said. “And as more vaccine sites get added, the more confusing it’s going to be.”
Since the dashboard launched, the bureau has updated it almost every day with new information, with the first update coming immediately after Hunt and Grazado returned from spring break, during which Gov. Larry Hogan announced eligibility dates and guidelines for Maryland residents in Phase 2 and 3.
The dashboard joins other vaccine resources created by Maryland residents, including Maryland Vaccine Hunters Facebook page and MD Vaccine Updates, which was created by University of Maryland student Mat Steininger.
The Maryland Vaccine Hunters Facebook page is made up of completely crowdsourced material from people sharing their experiences at vaccination sites to others posting links to sites with open appointments. The page also has a Google sheet complete with tips and tricks for when appointments are added to vaccination site websites and links to pre-registration lists.
MD Vaccine Updates keeps information on 16 different clinics around Maryland and scrapes their websites for possible appointments. Steininger has also linked website updates to a Twitter feed, which posts whenever there is a new appointment available.
As Maryland begins to move through Phase 2 and into Phase 3, Hunt and Grazado hope the CNS Vaccine Dashboard will become even more useful – and eventually unnecessary.
“My hope is that by the time this gets to June, we don’t have to use this site anymore because almost everybody has been vaccinated,” Hunt said. “I’m hoping at some point we get to add a mass vaccination site at the University of Maryland.”