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MU computer science student is helping people find free vaccination slots

A system developed by Ján Jančár, a PhD Student at the Faculty of Informatics, searches for information about free vaccine slots in Slovakia and sends it to users.

Ján Jančár, a PhD Student at the Faculty of Informatics.

Ján Jančár, a student from Slovakia at the Faculty of Informatics, is working on a dissertation in the field of applied cryptography. His studies have no connection whatsoever to the COVID-19 pandemic and the vaccination campaign to eliminate this disease. Nonetheless, this young computer scientist has created a service that sends notifications to people about free slots for COVID-19 vaccines in Slovakia.

Currently, the service is running only on his personal website. But Jančár is holding talks with the authorities to get it on the official government website about the coronavirus in Slovakia, which would enable it to help a greater number of people.

He considers vaccinations to be a crucial part of the fight against COVID-19. “It is fantastic that science gave us effective vaccines so quickly,” says Jančár, praising the work of researchers. Since the inoculation campaign was launched in Slovakia, he has had a keen interest in making sure that those close to him get vaccinated.

He discovered that the Slovak registration form does not enable preregistration, which means that people can only register when there are slots open. “People must have the registration website open constantly, waiting for new slots to appear. This is so absurd, especially when you consider that right now they are vaccinating people 70 and up,” notes Jančár.

Therefore, he started sending automated text messages about free vaccination slots to his friends. This service garnered such great interest that he expanded it to send email notifications and push notifications. “Currently, there are about 30,000 registered email addresses in the system, which has already sent out 360,000 email notifications.”

At first, the people responsible for the vaccine-appointment system in Slovakia were not happy about Jančár’s solution. “Dealing with the authorities wasn’t exactly easy. At one point, the National Health Information Center blocked me from accessing data about available slots. But I worked things out with them, and we are now in regular contact. Right now, I am working closely with the people at the official government website, and my goal is for them to put my system on their site,” explains Jančár.

Jančár does not plan on expanding the system beyond Slovakia, but he does criticize the people responsible for launching the reservation systems in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. “I don’t know that much about the Czech system. I haven’t had the opportunity or the time to study it in detail, but I do know that it has flaws. Creating an ideal system is complicated, but no one should try to excuse mistakes by claiming that the job of developing such a system came out of the blue. Since we first began fighting this disease, widescale vaccination has been touted as a solution, and therefore, vaccine-reservation systems should have been planned well in advance. A working reservation system must be much more than just a registration form. That’s something many people don’t realize. Ideally, the system should contact people, not the other way around. Registering and making appointments should be very user-friendly processes so that people aren’t put off from getting a shot,” says Jančár, adding that a major source of inspiration should be the system in place in Great Britain, where a record number of people have been vaccinated.

In the future, Jančár would like to find more time to conduct his research at the Centre for Research on Cryptography and Security. He also wants to continue using his IT skills to fight the coronavirus and support the VedaPomáha (Science helps) initiative in Slovakia.