Over 61 per cent of Canadians have now received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and while that’s definitely a milestone to celebrate, the process of reaching it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Many Canadians have felt discouraged as vaccine appointments were cancelled or rescheduled, or they had trouble booking one in the first place.
Out of the chaos has come the birth of initiatives and organizations like Vaccine Hunters Canada, a volunteer-led group helping to match eligible Canadians with a vaccine appointment near them and remove any barriers preventing people from getting vaccinated faster.
Ryerson Engineering Students Created Find My Vax App
Recognizing the trouble Canadians were experiencing trying to book a vaccine and seeing an urgent need for a more organized process, two Ryerson University engineering students, Reza Khonsari and James Heaney, also decided to take matters into their own hands. The pair set to work creating an app called Find My Vax to help people find appointments in their area without having to scour multiple different websites just to see their options.
“When I was trying to book an appointment for my parents, I realized the process was very complicated,” Khonsari says. “All the spots were getting filled very quickly, and I had to check multiple sites, multiple times a day. I was like, ‘There has to be an easier way.’ James had the same experience, and we had the idea of making a one-stop-shop with all vaccine appointments aggregated together.”
Vaccine Booking in ‘Less Than 15 Seconds of Searching’
The duo waited until they were finished writing exams — Khonsari is a master’s student studying civil engineering and Heaney is an undergraduate student studying mechanical engineering — before they set to work bringing their vision to life. They both put in multiple hours a day to get the app up and running, with Khonsari working on aggregating and collecting the information and Heaney working on the display.
While the app was exclusive to Ontarians only at first, they quickly expanded their reach to help people in other provinces and eventually, all of Canada.
“It eventually got to a place where we had Ontario and we saw people using it here, and then we added Saskatchewan, then Quebec, and then we were like ‘what if we could do this for all of Canada?’ Then our goal became that anyone in Canada could find a vaccine within less than 15 seconds of searching,” Heaney says.
Find My Vax Finds Vaccine Booking for All Canadians
The pair says they have been blown away by the positive feedback they’ve received from users so far, and they’re glad they’ve been able to streamline the process.
“We’ve had a lot of great feedback, which surprised me,” Heaney says. “We had a button for donations, and we didn’t think anyone would do it, it’s a free tool, but we actually had quite a few people send us substantial amounts of money and say things like ‘thank you so much, you found a vaccine for my husband and I,’ or that they had been looking all day and checked our site and found an appointment within a minute, so things like that have been crazy.”
Khonsari and Heaney have worked together in the past on other projects including a dating app specifically for Ryerson students called RUMine.
‘Getting Back to Normal As Quickly as Possible’
So, what’s next for these two inspirational people? Aside from beating off dream job offers with a stick, they already have a few other projects in the works for the summer and are eager to continue working together as business partners.
“The most important thing for this app is that if somebody wants a vaccine, they have the means to do it quickly and easily,” Heaney says. “That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this and go back to normal, so if we can aid and help people that actually want it, that’s great. The thing we’re trying to promote is getting back to normal as quickly as possible.”
Lead Photo: Ryerson students Reza Khonsari and James Heaney created an app to help Canadians find vaccine bookings in their area | Photo courtesy R. Khonsari and J. Heaney