The rollout of Covid 19 vaccines in recent months has been confusing for many, with vaccine availability shifting and poorly orchestrated, the requirements changing for who can get it and when, and the difficulty of finding locations and available times for appointments. Those seeking appointments are required to maneuver through a website, which many older adults do not know how to do, or call, which involves a long hold and usually the bad news that no appointments are available.
Fortunately, to help eligible individuals navigate the situation, there’s a new and welcome phenomenon on the scene — people who already faced the challenge of arranging a vaccination for a friend or loved one and are now willing to volunteer to do the same thing for others.
Since early February, as sites for the distribution of vaccines began to pop up around New York state, a rapidly growing cadre of volunteers, including 25-year-old Bayville resident Jacqueline D’Elia, have helped people book appointments using the social media group NY Vaccine Angels – Volunteers. Working through the often tedious and time-consuming bureaucratic complications, D’Elia and others are helping people get vaccinated “around the clock,” said Jane Duncan, of Westbeth, one of the first “Angels” to volunteer.
“The idea to form [Vaccine Angels],” Duncan said, “started after I joined a group on Facebook for New Yorkers who were concerned about unemployment during Covid” — Help Us-NYS Unemployment Issues. Duncan was unemployed because of a medical issue. “Around February 1 of this year, about four of us from that group started the vaccine group,” she explained. “In just over a month, it has grown [by] a couple of hundred every day.”
D’Elia, a 2014 graduate of Locust Valley High School who earned a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Cortland, was laid off from her job with the minor league baseball team the Staten Island Yankees because of Covid-19. Returning to her family home in Bayville, she followed the Facebook unemployment group, and found out about Vaccine Angels from Duncan. D’Elia was one of the first to join.
“We were sharing information, etcetera, but then Jane joined, and said she would help people find a place to get a vaccine, and that was awesome,” D’Elia recalled. “I really wanted to know how she could do it. I had tried to book my grandmother. It had taken hours.”
Duncan said she organized the volunteer effort for two reasons — her overall concern for the problems associated with Covid and her own experience of getting appointments for her relatives.
“I started [Vaccine Angels] because my dad couldn’t figure out how to get an appointment, so I helped him,” Duncan said. “At first it was just me signing up hundreds of people, so I started asking for volunteers. It was crickets at first, but then it just exploded.”
After learning the ropes from Duncan, D’Elia decided to post her Covid booking appointment availability on two local Facebook groups, Locust Valley & Bayville Neighbors and Bayville & Locust Valley Neighbors Helping Neighbors In Need.
“I just thought that, as much as I love helping strangers, in this situation I wanted to help my community,” D’Elia said.
Two days later she was in business. “It was a really quick response,” she said. “People contacted me immediately — some of them reaching out for elderly family members, some for others who were eligible. And I was able to get an appointment [for them] within a couple of hours, or a day.”
Volunteers find New York state locations for vaccinations. The help is essential for many, because both women said that navigating the online appointment system is tricky, requiring patience and diligence.
“New York state lists all their sites, but the first thing you see is that appointments aren’t available — and you have to ignore that and get started registering anyway,” D’Elia explained. “They ask about underlying condition or your work situation. If you’re eligible, it’ll take you to another website with all the sites listed: Jones Beach, Stony Brook, Aqueduct, Westchester, for example.”
Then comes the tedious part, she said. “You choose a site, and click, and chances are it says no appointments available. So you have to sit there and refresh and refresh. I’ve learned that every six and a half minutes the state updates.”
“You have to have a trigger finger,” Duncan added. “I’m not that quick at it. But some of the volunteers, like Jackie, are fast.”
D’Elia has the temperament for the job, Duncan added. “She’s also super friendly, she’s extremely positive, really on the ball, and carries herself with a lot of grace,” Duncan said. “She’s consistently in a good mood and wants to help.”
Kathy Goodman, a Locust Valley resident and one of more than 100 people D’Elia has helped, agreed.
“She’s an angel,” Goodman said. “I don’t even know what she looks like. I just read her offer to help book appointments on the Facebook page organized by community members in Bayville.”
Goodman had already been vaccinated, but contacted D’Elia for help booking appointments for her daughter and her boyfriend. “When I called Jackie, she said sure, send me their names, all the particulars,” Goodman said. “That afternoon she had an appointment for both of them. Her actions mean everything to me. To spend all day on a computer to find people a place to get a vaccine, it means the world.”
That suits D’Elia, who said she subscribes to the notion of “paying it forward,” and admitted that she also gets a kind of a rush when she’s able to “win” an appointment for someone.
“It’s kind of addicting,” D’Elia said. “When I got that first appointment, I felt so good, and then the reactions you get back from people you’ve helped, how thankful they are . . . this is definitely in my zone. I always had a passion for doing something for others. To be able to do my part, if I can save one life, that’s what I want to do.”
If you or someone you know is eligible for a vaccine and needs assistance in booking an appointment, D’Elia can be reached at email@example.com.