New texting tool helps Ontarians find nearby COVID-19 vaccination sites

After seeing a tweet showcasing a new tool in the United States that allows residents to find nearby COVID-19 vaccination sites with just one text, Zain Manji thought Ontario should have something similar.

On Friday, Manji noticed a tweet from Global News’ Jackson Proskow showing the feature in the U.S. and decided to make one for Ontario.

“I’m an engineer at heart so the first thing I thought about was like, ‘Is it possible for me to build and how easy would it be to build and could I get started right now?’ And that’s basically what happened,” Manji said.

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Manji and his friend Ashish quickly got to work and after purchasing a phone number and completing some coding, in about two or three hours a texting line was live.

“Very simply, how it works is someone texts the postal code, we look at the first three digits of their postal code [and] we then cross-list it with all the COVID vaccination [sites] that are listed on the Ontario website and based on your postal code and the proximity to the ones that are listed on the website, we show you two to three locations that are closest to you,” Manji said.

Included in the automatic response are the address and phone number of each location. Residents just need to send their postal code to +1 (833) 356-1683.

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Manji said he hopes the tool will help clear up some confusion during the ongoing vaccination rollout.

“The [Ontario government’s] COVID website is a good source, but not that many people know to go there, so this is just hopefully another tool that people can use to be aware of the options that are open to them,” he said.

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The feature is currently only available for Ontario residents, but Manji said he hopes to expand it across Canada, and possibly even add age eligibility to each location listed.

Click to play video: 'Some Canadians head to U.S. to get COVID-19 vaccine'

Some Canadians head to U.S. to get COVID-19 vaccine

Some Canadians head to U.S. to get COVID-19 vaccine

He said he has already seen a positive impact, including from one person who was able to get on a waitlist after not being able to find a nearby vaccination site with open bookings.

“The first link that they saw, they went to and it was actually a waitlist form. And so they were so happy that they could at least just get on the waitlist form ahead of time so that when their time comes, they’re first to get notified that they can book an appointment,” Manji said.

“And so hopefully there’s many more stories like this that can come out of people just using the tool.”

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