In the midst of nationwide vaccine scramble, Santa Monica based healthcare company GoodRx has a solution — an online appointment finder consolidating up-to-date availability at over 50,000 vaccination sites.

The system shows searchers where the closest available appointments are by scraping data from thousands of sources and tracking changes as fast as every five minutes. So far over 2 million people have signed up for alerts from the GoodRx vaccine guide, which provides the latest information on eligibility, inventory, appointments, and emergency authorizations.

This system has reached millions of people, but was inspired by a single simple problem: one father’s struggle to buy his son’s dream Christmas gift.

When GoodRx Co-founder and Co-CEO Doug Hirsch was scouring the internet for an available Xbox last holiday season, he came across an online tool that tracked when stores such as Walmart would release new inventory. This was around the time that vaccines were being approved and Hirsch realized the nation would soon be facing a very similar problem on a much larger and more important scale.

“So in December I brought together a team of folks here for no profit motive, but because this is what GoodRx does — we help people — and said we’re gonna have to help people figure out where to get vaccines, because it’s going to be just a disaster for the next few months,” said Hirsch.

Hirsch’s prediction proved correct and vaccines were exceedingly difficult to secure through the state’s online scheduling system, which required near constant monitoring of appointment availability. Unfortunately, many people don’t have the capacity to do this and especially not essential workers who live in the hardest hit areas and have limited access to wifi or computers.

When GoodRx’s appointment finder launched in February, it eliminated the need to manually and constantly check in with scores of different vaccine sites by helping people search their local area for open slots in a single click.

After a conversation with a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force a few weeks later, Hirsch realized that the company could be doing more to reach underserved populations, which were being vaccinated at disproportionately low rates across the country.

L.A. in particular did a poor job of providing vaccine equity in the early stages of its rollout. In mid February, for example, eligible white residents were receiving vaccines at roughly six times the rate of eligible Black residents.

While GoodRx’s appointment finder system was built with nothing but good intentions, it did still privilege those with consistent wifi, smartphone and computer access. To help remedy this, the company established a call line to walk people through the process of getting a vaccine, answer any questions they might have, and connect them to local resources.

“Today hundreds if not thousands of people are calling us every day, and we’re running ads and putting up billboards in places where underserved communities will see the number,” said Hirsch. “It really is about access and I’m proud of that.”

While GoodRx’s vaccine finder system does not drive company profit, it aligns closely with the company’s mission to connect all Americans to affordable healthcare. Since the GoodRx app launched in 2011 it has helped Americans save over $25 billion by connecting customers to reasonably priced prescriptions, lab tests, doctors visits and telehealth services.

The company went public last September and raised over $1.1 billion. As part of its IPO process GoodRx set aside over $40 million to fund health clinics in underserved communities.

In the future, Hirsch foresees several different applications for the company’s vaccine guide such as helping consumers secure vaccine passports and creating a monitoring and appointment dashboard that alerts people when they are due for any type of vaccination.

“GoodRx started because I went to a pharmacy in Santa Monica and was asked to pay too much for a prescription and thought this is not good, and not just for me, but for the whole country,” said Hirsch. “Everyone who works here really ultimately cares about helping Americans. That’s kind of our DNA.”

Clara@smdp.com