April 1, 2023

Altruists help strangers to get appointments to get vaccinated against covid

Ana Guevara was determined that her mother, Adelina Coto, be vaccinated against covid. But the 85-year-old needed help making the appointment, and Guevara, who is a babysitter, had neither the time nor the internet skills to help her.

Guevara’s son, a school district employee, also couldn’t sit for hours in front of a computer waiting for new appointments to appear for his grandmother.

That’s when Guevara’s boss connected her with a group of volunteers who help people like her mother get vaccinated.

Three days and a phone call later, Coto had his appointment. Now Guevara is telling everyone he knows about this group.

“I tell all my friends,” said the 53-year-old immigrant from El Salvador. “They help, they are very kind and they do everything.”

Coto was one of hundreds of people who manage to make the difficult appointments to get vaccinated against covid with the help of strangers. Grassroots volunteer corps, powered by people with time, tech savvy and a computer at their fingertips, are popping up in major metropolitan areas where thousands compete for turns

His altruism offers an antidote to those who seek to sneak in line for vaccines.

“I’d like to remove the stigma that appointments are unavailable and impossible to get,” said Rhea Hoffman, a 34-year-old former teacher from the Coachella Valley who has been helping people get vaccinated. “I can probably get you an appointment in 48 hours if you qualify, and it’s not a problem, just give me a second.”

Volunteers are reinforcing local governments to help disadvantaged people get vaccinated. In California, county officials have hotlines, run mobile clinics, hire community health workers, and partner with faith-based communities and grassroots organizations to get people to sign up for appointments or get vaccinated close to home.

Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County Director of Public Health, congratulates the “amazing” groups of volunteers. “It makes me feel good that people are stepping up and helping people who have really struggled to get those appointments,” Ferrer told KHN at a press conference.

The Los Angeles County neighborhoods hardest hit by the coronavirus are also the ones with the lowest vaccination rates.

In poorer areas like Pacoima, San Fernando, and Hawaiian Gardens, for example, 9-12% of the population had received at least one dose as of February 20, while in wealthy Bel-Air, Century City, and Beverly Hills, a third of the residents had been vaccinated. State statistics show similar disparities.

Volunteer groups are vital to expanding vaccination among low-income, disabled and isolated people, said Louise McCarthy, president and CEO of the Los Angeles County Association of Community Clinics. His group represents 64 community clinics and health centers that are key to getting more people vaccinated, whether it’s giving injections directly or helping people navigate registration systems.

“We need all hands to help people access this vaccine,” McCarthy said. “People are already falling behind, and it is projects like this that help us catch up.”

Volunteers have joined the effort after seeing how difficult it was to make appointments for them, their parents or their grandparents. They love helping people, and joining like-minded altruists on social media helps them become more efficient in the process.

It’s a natural step to go from “caring about your parents and learning these skills, to caring about someone else’s parents or grandparents,” said Liz Schwandt, director of a 45-year-old early childhood program at a Jewish preschool in Los Angeles.

Schwandt co-founded Get Out the Shot: Los Angeles , the group that made Coto’s appointment, and now has about 100 volunteers who have booked at least 300 appointments directly through the group’s system, and up to 4,000 through their individual efforts.

Schwandt said he did not take on this mission out of anger, and does not blame the launch of the vaccine or public health workers, who, he said, work diligently to protect people’s health. He simply saw a need and was able to satisfy it.

“These technological barriers are real, and each dose that a person receives is a potential protection for his life and his family,” he said.

For help from the Schwandt group, Los Angeles residents can leave a phone message or fill out a Google form with their address, availability and other details. Then a volunteer takes the case, looks for an appointment, and calls to confirm.

Bookers with good memories remember the days and times when certain sites post a new batch of quotes and stay up-to-date on new developments through Facebook groups or other social media.

George and Cathi Rimalower, a Beverly Hills couple whose grandson attends Schwandt’s school, have stayed up late at night to get shifts for others. They were still in their pajamas at 11:30 a.m. on a recent day after waiting until 1 a.m. to finish a series of dates.

“In my case, there is no excuse for me, as a retired person with the resources available to help people, to sit back and do nothing,” said George Rimalower, 69, who ran a translation company with his wife. Rimalower, born in Argentina, responds primarily to requests from Spanish speakers.

“It’s good to give money and that’s always helpful,” said 67-year-old Cathi Rimalower. “But it also feels good to give some time.”

The couple have fun competing over their work. So far, each has booked around 60 appointments.

Hoffman, the Coachella Valley reservations manager, had spent most of the pandemic overseeing her two children’s online education while volunteering as a Zoom moderator for a senior community college class.

When vaccines were finally available, it took her four days to make appointments for her parents. Seeing how difficult the process was, he asked his class if they needed help; most of the students raised their hands.

Hoffman and a friend who worked in marketing and graphic design created a website to advertise their volunteer services. Hoffman estimates that the two have booked 350 appointments. They have spoken with a member of the Coachella City Council to devise a strategy on how they can expand and help in a more official way.

Many of these volunteer organizations are focusing on getting minorities or people from underserved communities to take certain available shifts in specific locations.

In Chicago, Brianna Wolin, 26, said the 45 “Chicago Vaccine Angels” on her Facebook group have scheduled more than 750 vaccination appointments for seniors and others, with fairness in mind.

“We are not going to reverse a shift for a person who lives in the north suburbs in the southeast of Chicago, because they would never have set foot in this area if it weren’t for the vaccine they desperately seek,” he said.

“After a year of caring so much about yourself and your own needs and your own safety, it feels great to do something for others,” said Wolin, an orthopedic graduate student.

This article was originally posted on Altruists help strangers to get appointments to get vaccinated against covid

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