NJ residents helping complete strangers with COVID vaccine bookings
Amy Heller was completely unfamiliar with the process of booking a coronavirus vaccination as recently as three weeks ago.
But once the Ocean Grove resident heard from a neighbor about her challenges finding an appointment, she decided to go online herself and see if she could help. Heller was able to snag an open slot, and her neighbor was very excited — and that started a process that has resulted in well over 2,000 vaccine appointments booked for individuals in the 65+ age group.
"We have seven groups running behind the scenes all across the state," Heller said. "They are divided up by county. We have 400 volunteers, two developers."
Assistance from the group is meant for seniors "who are struggling with the tech-heavy process" of booking a vaccination.
"Some of these sites or health systems drop appointments at 1 o'clock in the morning, 12 o'clock in the morning, and we have people working at that time," Heller said. "For our first 525 appointments, which we did in five days, we had an average turnaround of 48 hours."
As frustrations grow among folks who fit the bill for a vaccine but can't grab an appointment, so does the number of selfless New Jerseyans who've taken it upon themselves to book vaccinations for complete strangers.
Since its launch on Jan. 15, the Facebook group "New Jersey Covid Vaccine Info" has attracted more than 80,000 members. Through the group, Facebook users can alert others when websites have vaccine slots available. It also serves as a hub for those who need help reserving an appointment, and for those willing to offer assistance.
"My dad's 87 and I feel for that generation that has to go online and schedule a vaccine during a pandemic," said Kerry Butkera.
Within a week and a half, the Bergen County resident successfully grabbed about 70 appointments in her area for eligible residents.
"It's just a matter of jumping from one tab to the next tab on your computer and refreshing the screen," Butkera said. "It's like an adrenaline high trying to get the appointment before somebody else does."
Butkera described the process as a chess game — over time, she's picked up on websites' patterns and schedules.
Gov. Phil Murphy hopes to vaccinate at least 70% of the state's eligible adult population against COVID-19. On Friday, Murphy announced that close to 1.9 million vaccine doses had been administered throughout the Garden State.
Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.