Mutual Aid Groups Are Now Booking Vaccine Appointments Too

Photo credit: Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images

Sharifah Taylor had all but given up on getting vaccinated against COVID-19. She had a frustrating time trying to book an appointment online, repeatedly faced with a blank white screen instead of a confirmation. But that changed when her home phone rang one February afternoon: the 43-year-old reluctantly picked up the hook, half expecting a robocall, but instead heard a sunny voice in the other. end of the line offering to help her schedule an appointment for a vaccine. Taylor, who lives in Bed-Stuy and works as a bus supervisor at a private school in Park Slope, jumped. A week later, the stranger called back and within an hour who had scheduled three dates in April at Medgar Evers College for Taylor, his 71-year-old diabetic mother and 72-year-old father. “She answered all of my questions. She even told me about her experience getting the first dose, and it made me more comfortable going ahead and doing it – even a little excited, ”said Taylor, who was. a little nervous about getting the vaccine. “I really don’t know what we would have done without it. This call changed everything.

Taylor is among the thousands of New Yorkers who in recent months have received similar calls from strangers eager to use their spare time and technical skills to help others navigate the often maddening process of booking a hotel. a photo. Taylor’s nomination for the vaccine was the product of an elaborate system developed by Mutual Aid from Clinton Hill to Fort Greene – one of the city’s many self-help groups that have mobilized their networks to help neighbors get the coveted blow.

“These appointments contain many more important issues of access to information, language and mobility,” said Ani Simon-Kennedy, the organizer of Clinton Hill Fort Greene Mutual Aid who has guided Taylor and her family. throughout the registration process. “So it goes beyond just making an appointment. It is respond to people’s needs holistically, whether it’s pure information or physically transporting it to a site. “

To do this, self-help groups have launched new hotlines, sign posts superimposed with leaflets in different languages ​​and developed awareness systems to contact their neighbors. Some mutual aid workers have set up physical kiosks, where volunteers armed with laptops stand ready to help register. Others have coordinated pop-up vaccination campaigns, such as the one held in early March at NYCHA’s Ingersoll Houses in Fort Greene, which helped immunize 153 elderly people. Tenants ‘associations and senior citizens’ centers have been important partners, but the bulk of the work is done by a small army of dedicated service volunteers who make hundreds of calls to New Yorkers around the clock. They call and call and call until they get a voice on the phone where they can offer immunization support; they make appointments, set up public transportation, and check in with people after they’ve had their shots. It is exhausting and exhaustive work aimed at making the city safer by strengthening the fabric of herd immunity with each new vaccination.

Clinton Hill Fort Greene Mutual Aid began its vaccination efforts in February, when the mass vaccination site opened at Medgar Evers College, near Crown Heights. At first, FEMA’s state-run site only served a handful of under-vaccinated Brooklyn zip codes. Among those initially eligible were those who lived in NYCHA’s Atlantic Terminal complex, where the self-help group was already working with the tenant association to deliver groceries to residents. They therefore set to work to contact these same people with offers to make an appointment.

Half the battle is getting potential vaccine recipients over the phone. If a volunteer is assigned 15 people to call, it’s not uncommon for them to leave 15 voicemail messages, says Simon-Kennedy, a filmmaker who is one of the few volunteers leading the group’s vaccination efforts. Even when people are picking up, they could be on the fence to get the jab. That’s when mutuals transform into ad hoc public health officials, sharing information about possible side effects or talking about their own experiences with the vaccine before they can actually get the green light to start walking a path. list of websites looking for a date. The purpose of every call is to arm people with information and access. And it is not always related to the appointments for the vaccine. Volunteer helped senior who had to cancel her appointment after testing positive for COVID-19; the peer support network delivered groceries, a thermometer and a pulse oximeter, and continued to monitor her.

Clinton Hill Fort Greene Mutual Aid has since expanded its efforts to focus on several NYCHA resorts and neighborhoods. As of March 21, they have made 3,295 calls, connected with 1,816 people, and made appointments for 315 neighbors (229 on two weekend pop-up sites the group has hosted), most of whom are people. low-income seniors.

“We build the plane a lot as we fly it,” says Simon-Kennedy. Part of assembling said aircraft comes from active negotiation processes and other solutions with similar groups operating in different neighborhoods, learning as you go. On a recent Zoom call with eight support groups, from Red Hook to Astoria, one shared tips for Walgreens’ tricky signup process, another offered translated flyers. “All of this information is so sketchy, and having a way to centralize our efforts and think about particularly thorny issues or complicated situations just means that more people have a chance to make it to dates,” said Simon-Kennedy. “We had all the pieces – once the opportunity presented itself, things multiplied.”

Photo: Willy Blackmore

One of the groups in this call was North Brooklyn Mutual Aid, which launched a new initiative called NBK Vax in January only devoted to vaccine support. The group started seriously helping people at the end of February and have since booked over 75 dates. Eighty volunteers officially “participated” in training calls in one of three categories: appointment assistance, community outreach, and transportation. “We want to come full circle and help as many people as possible,” said Samantha Reichstein, the group’s founder. “If we want to help one way or another, we want to be there for people to see them all the way through.”

More to the south, Bed-Stuy Strong took a different approach. Group members had been thinking about ways to help locals sign up for vaccines in February when a nonprofit asked for help scheduling vaccine appointments at Canarsie High. School. The volunteers quickly picked up names from their grocery lists, social media and word of mouth. A few weeks later, 50 volunteers made more than 1,000 calls and scheduled 253 immunization appointments – and it’s not over yet. Self-Help also maintained a presence at Canarsie High School, with volunteers occasionally passing by, holding up homemade “BED-STUY STRONG” signs to help people solve last-minute problems.

The community itself has been the biggest asset in making this outreach possible, says Charlotte Sagan, a volunteer at Bed-Stuy Strong. “When we made that call for people who wanted a vaccine, we said, ‘Return this number if you want a vaccine,’ and then we rotated slightly to say, ‘Send this number if you want a vaccine. know someone who would like a vaccine. It really made our numbers go up, with these mini-chains of one neighbor texting on behalf of another neighbor texting on behalf of their father, brother, sister, ”he said. she declared. “It really strengthened the community aspect of it. They’re just people looking out for each other. “

Linda Wilson was one of those people who got a date through Bed-Stuy Strong after a neighbor across her building gave her contact details. She had initially given up on getting the vaccine after several unsuccessful calls to city and state hotlines for help with registration. “It’s a community, not a neighborhood, and we all take care of each other,” said Wilson, a 70-year-old retired teacher who suffers from an array of pre-existing conditions. She had her first injection at Canarsie High School on February 22 and the second on March 19. In addition to making appointments, Bed-Stuy Strong also helped her book a taxi to get her to and from the vaccination site. Those snaps, she said, will eventually lead her back to singing in jazz clubs with the locals she played with before the pandemic. “The community knows who needs help and how to get on with it. This is all a perfect example, ”Wilson said. “We all just want our community to be healthy.”

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