Friday morning, I scored a coveted COVID-19 vaccine appointment at Gillette Stadium using the Massachusetts vaccine website.
Friends have asked how I did it. Here’s my strategy. Your mileage may vary, but it worked for me.
First, you need to view the vaccine sign-up as a poorly designed online ticket website that is not as easy to conquer. If you want tickets for Hamilton or a popular concert, you know that rapidly repeated hits on the refresh button is the key to scoring tickets. Each hit on the refresh button is a low-probability try to land your ticket, but if you make it past the first screen, you have a few minutes to break out your credit card and finalize the transaction.
In the case of the vaccine, making it past the first screen is a digital contest to enter the race through multiple screens before you win an appointment. (Think of it as qualifying for the Boston Marathon.) The probability of success is defined by how fast you can make it through the registration screens compared to other competitors for that appointment.
Before you start, here are the basics. Understand that you can’t sit around and be picky about the date and time. Claim your spot, and once you know the details, be ready to do what you need to do to rearrange your life around the shot. If you make it a couple of pages into the registration process, you will be asked for your health insurance company and policy number. Be ready for this step. Open a text file and type in your policy number before you start your search, so you can cut and paste it into the field when you reach it.
Your adventure begins when you access the start page of the state website, https://www.maimmunizations.org/clinic/search.
You will encounter the Find a Vaccination Clinic screen. Your goal come up with a narrow, relevant set of clinics and dates, as the strategy is to quickly focus on one page of results. (If you are clicking on multiple pages from the same search, your search becomes stale and chances are you are losing vaccine opportunities with the ensuing delay.)
My strategy was to Search by Name of Location. I selected Gillette. It’s a mass vaccination site with lots of appointments. Gillette offers Moderna. Fenway offers Pfizer. Gillette has a large parking lot. Fenway parking is more of an adventure.
You can also query with your zip code and distance from home, or search by vaccine brand name. Use multiple browsers with different search parameters, check out the results, and lean on the most promising one. Wander back to backup browser just to see if
If you run a search that has multiple providers, become familiar with their restrictions. For example, you might see Tree House Deerfield listed among the options, but in the Additional Information section of the listing you will see they serve eligible populations in Franklin County. If you live elsewhere, look elsewhere. Some of the Additional Information listings are very dense, but they generally repeat themselves in subsequent listings for that site.
Most or all of these will list their Available Appointments as 0. However, if the vaccine gods are smiling on you, the number will be greater than zero and a little blue button will appear beneath the listing. If you are lucky, hit that button and start to contest to claim your prize.
However, chances are you will need to conduct multiple searches. Get your thumb on your trackpad and get ready for some exercise. It’s time to get down to business, and this is where the speed factor comes in.
The trick is to get into a rapid rhythm; scroll down the page as fast as you can. Don’t slow down to read anything on the page, just fly to the bottom and don’t stop unless you catch a glimpse of a blue button. If you see the blue button beneath the listing, it’s an invitation to attempt to register for the vaccination. Stop scrolling and click on it as fast as you can. If you don’t see a blue button before you reach the bottom of the screen, quickly scroll back to the top, hit the Search button, and repeat the process.
If you click on the blue registration button, the race to the appointment has begun. You are racing against anyone else who has clicked on their blue button for the same appointment. Once you click that blue button, the first set of screens requests your demographic data. As you move through the screens, they will become your friends, because chances are you will need to fill them in multiple times. Hopefully, your browser will autofill most of the fields after the first time through the routine.
Remember, this is a race, and if there is only one appointment, and someone else fills in their screens and gets to the end of the trail faster than you, they will claim the appointment and you will get the consolation screen.
Do not be discouraged. Every time you fill in data in the registration screens, you gain practice and you can move faster through the screens. It will become second nature as you gain practice. Just keep trying. You never know when someone will cancel their shot and free up an appointment, or when additional appointments are released into the system. It has been reported that a week’s supply of appointments are added Thursday mornings, so plan your playtime accordingly.
The bottom line is the more you play, the greater your probability of winning a cherished appointment. Each click on the Search button could be the winning click. Don’t be discouraged. Search, scroll down, scroll up, rinse, repeat.