How can I help other people get the COVID vaccine?

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A man gets the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine

A man gets the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination hub in San Marino, Friday, April 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

This is one of a series of articles in which reporters from WHYY’s Health Desk Help Desk answer questions about vaccines and COVID-19 submitted by you, our audience.

More and more people are becoming eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. Last week, President Joe Biden directed states to expand eligibility to all adults by April 19, two weeks ahead of the original May 1 order.

“What the Biden administration is doing is implicitly pressuring the states to get vaccinations into as many arms as possible. And the idea is that the more vaccinated people that we have, the quicker that we can get to this concept of community immunity,” Drexel epidemiologist Neal Goldstein told WHYY News.

Epidemiologically, Goldstein said, the goal is to vaccinate both the people with the most exposure, to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and the people at highest risk, to limit the virus’s most deadly effects. Once everyone is eligible, “you’re going to get a lot more people vaccinated, and provided we have the supply to do this, it kind of makes sense … but we’re going to still see people fall through the cracks.”

Goldstein is worried about those people, and so are WHYY’s readers and listeners. An easy and immediate way to help out the ones you know is to sign them up for the vaccine — we’ve included the specific steps to do this at the bottom of this article.

But there are also a lot of other ways to volunteer your time and help people who might not be in your immediate social network. This week, the Health Desk Help Desk looked into multiple approaches to helping others get the vaccine: keeping neighbors informed; assisting with appointments; and volunteering with local vaccination efforts.

Volunteer to inform people about availability | Volunteer to book vaccine appointments for others | Volunteer at local vaccination sites | How to get someone else signed up for the vaccine

Volunteer to help inform people about available appointments

So far, the COVID-19 vaccine rollout has relied heavily on online registration systems. But since many people lack reliable internet or computer access, or simply don’t have the tech savvy to navigate those systems, they’ve often been left behind. You can volunteer to get the word out about vaccination in your neighborhood, or help collect updates on a single website so it’s more accessible.

#VaccinateWSWPhilly, #VaccinatePointBreeze, etc. (local to Philadelphia, organized by the Campaign Workers’ Coalition)

Who can volunteer: Anyone in Philadelphia, preferably local to the neighborhood

How to register: To sign up to volunteer in Point Breeze, fill out the online form here. To sign up to volunteer in West Philly, fill out the online form here. You’ll need to attend a weekend Zoom training session, which usually occurs Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., after which you’ll receive an assigned list of addresses in the neighborhood.

What you’ll need: A mobile phone, updated contact information, and training attendance. You’ll also need in-person availability for about two to three hours, anytime during the week you sign up to volunteer.

What you’ll be doing: Walking door-to-door and checking in on neighbors 65 and older with limited or no access to the internet. Each canvasser will knock on 30 to 40 doors per cycle and share information about accessing the vaccine.

VaccinatePA (local to Pennsylvania)

Who can volunteer: Anyone with a phone and computer access

How to register: Start by filling out the volunteer form here. You’ll be contacted shortly with information about how to start, including a Zoom onboarding session, a list of phone numbers to call, and several pre-written call scripts.

What you’ll need: Phone, computer, and internet access, as well as availability anytime during the week (preferably during business hours, but co-founder Seth Rubenstein said that’s up to callers’ schedules).

What you’ll be doing: Calling a list of vaccine locations to collect information about appointment availability and how to sign up. You’ll then submit that information to VaccinatePA, where a team will verify it and post updates to the website.

Volunteer to help people sign up for vaccine appointments

If you’re good with computers, you can also help to book appointments directly — that’s what Rubenstein, co-founder of VaccinatePA, calls “the last mile” of COVID-19 vaccine appointments. Though you can simply offer help to neighbors you know are struggling, there are also more structured social media groups and organizations that will help you find those in need and help them get their shots.

Vaccine Fairy (national)

Who can volunteer: Anyone with computer access

How to register: Fill out the online form here, which asks for an estimated time commitment, state preference, and agreement to a privacy statement. You’ll be contacted shortly with information about vaccine requests and volunteer coordination.

What you’ll need: Computer and phone access. You can be located anywhere — Vaccine Fairy books appointments across the country.

What you’ll be doing: Booking COVID-19 vaccine appointments for people who can’t find appointments themselves. While the VF team doesn’t train volunteers on how to book people from scratch, they do provide internal documentation and assistance for helping book those appointments more efficiently.

“What we hear a lot is that people volunteer to help book a few on their own on Facebook but are quickly impressed with our system and how we keep requests organized,” said David Austin, head fairy. “Coming together with processes and a team is what makes the magic here.”

New Jersey COVID Vaccine Info (Facebook group)

Who can volunteer: Anyone who knows how to book vaccine appointments

How to register: There is no official registration process for volunteers in this Facebook group — group members will frequently post either links with availability or requests for vaccine appointments, and other members can comment and search for appointments.

What you’ll need: A Facebook account and booking capability. You’ll also need to remain in contact with the person you volunteer to book an appointment for.

What you’ll be doing: Booking appointments for individual people, usually seniors who are less tech savvy and are looking to schedule appointments in their area. This can be the most direct way of booking, but may also be less organized than a formal system like Vaccine Fairy.

PA COVID Match Maker (Facebook group)

Who can volunteer: Anyone who knows how to book vaccine appointments

How to register: The group is divided into two types: Vaccine seekers looking for appointments, and volunteer finders booking those appointments. Volunteer finders should email pacovidmatchmaker@gmail.com — they will be required to answer all membership questions and agree to group rules in order to be added to the (separate) Finder Facebook page.

What you’ll need: A Facebook account and booking capability. You’ll also need to remain in contact with the person you volunteer to book an appointment for.

What you’ll be doing: Booking appointments for individual people, usually seniors who are less tech savvy and are looking to schedule appointments in their area. This can be the most direct way of booking, but may also be less organized than a formal system like Vaccine Fairy.

Volunteer at local vaccination sites

Finally, there’s the option of volunteering at local sites, helping to distribute the vaccine directly. Though medical expertise is a requirement to administer the vaccine, most clinics need non-medical volunteer help, too, for traffic control, registration, and more.

If you are bilingual, consider volunteering to translate at a community clinic or with a local community organization. Groups such as Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp., Juntos, and VietLead, among others, have organized pop-up vaccination clinics in the past and are often in need of translators.

Medical Reserve Corps (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware)

Who can volunteer: Anyone 18 years of age or older. Note: You do *not* need a medical license to work with the Medical Reserve Corps; it accepts both medical and non-medical volunteers.

How to register: Click the direct sign-up link for your state or region above and follow registration directions. Once you have completed your profile, regional coordinators will reach out to inform you of your acceptance into the MRC and you’ll start receiving emails about upcoming training and events.

What you’ll need: Updated contact information (phone and/or email address), availability for in-person volunteer opportunities. You’ll also probably need to pass a criminal background check.

What you’ll be doing: Volunteers with the Medical Reserve Corps may perform a variety of tasks: work at a call center; move materials or manage logistics; help intake people at vaccine clinics; or even administer the vaccine (for volunteers who are medically trained). As an added bonus, volunteers at vaccine sites will typically be prioritized for the vaccine as well, said Duane Hagelgans, public information officer for the South Central Task Force — so if you’re still looking to get your jab, this might be a good option.

Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium

Who can volunteer: Adults 18 or older, as well as high school students 15 or older.

How to register: Fill out the online application form here. Once you complete the form, forward a copy of your resume to HR@blackdoctorsconsortium.com.

What you’ll need: Contact information (phone and/or email address), an updated resume, and availability for in-person volunteer opportunities.

What you’ll be doing: According to its website, the BDCC is currently seeking both clinical volunteers to assist with vaccination and non-medical volunteers to help with clerical support. There are also opportunities for non-public-facing volunteers to assist with customer service support via phone. Commitment is a minimum of two days per week, Monday through Saturday, either 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Serve Philadelphia (local to Philadelphia)

Who can volunteer: Anyone 18 or older.

How to register: Visit serve.volunteermatch.org to search available volunteer opportunities by keyword or city ZIP code. Right now, there appear to be multiple volunteer slots available for the new FEMA Esperanza site in North Philadelphia.

What you’ll need: In-person availability and commitment to a volunteer schedule. Shifts usually last four to five hours, with specific times and durations dependent on the day.

What you’ll be doing: According to the description, volunteers will fill a variety of non-medical roles at the Esperanza community vaccine clinic, including: access and functional needs; traffic flow/greeter; registration station guide; wellness checkpoint guide; appointment verification; observation and second appointment registration; and exit guide. They will be assigned roles and provided with training after arriving for their shifts.

Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp. (local to Philadelphia)

Who can volunteer: Bilingual volunteers, preferably in Cantonese/Mandarin and English.

How to register: Sign up using the online form here; someone from PCDC will be in contact with you shortly.

What you’ll need: In-person availability for any of three upcoming vaccine clinics — on Tuesday, April 20; Wednesday, April 28; and Tuesday, May 11, all from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

What you’ll be doing: You’ll be volunteering to help residents get vaccinated at the Crane Center in Chinatown, organizing, translating, and assisting with the clinic intake process.

VietLead (local to Philadelphia)

Who can volunteer: Foreign language speakers, preferably in Vietnamese, Cantonese, Khmer, Spanish, or Mandarin.

How to register: Sign up using the online form here; someone from VietLead will be in contact with you shortly.

What you’ll need: Phone availability (for phone banking) or in-person availability for upcoming vaccine clinics (no dates yet announced).

What you’ll be doing: Supporting weekly phone banking to combat COVID-19 misinformation and/or translating for vaccine clinics. VietLead program coordinator Anh Nguyen said priority is given to Viet speakers (for phone banking) and Vietnamese, Cantonese, Khmer, Spanish, or Mandarin speaking medical students and professionals who can reconstitute syringes and have injection licenses (for clinics). The organization also needs Vietnamese translators and interpreters to support with in-language materials.

How to sign someone else up for the COVID-19 vaccine

Even if you’ve done it before, the vaccine registration and appointment process can be confusing. Here’s a refresher on how to get someone else — a friend, family member, neighbor, or complete stranger — signed up for the COVID-19 vaccine, step by step.

First, find out if they’re currently eligible. If you’re not sure which priority group they fall into, WHYY has a helpful interactive guide available here. In Delaware, all residents 16 and older are already eligible for the vaccine. Starting April 13, all residents in Pennsylvania are too. And starting April 19, all residents 16 and older in New Jersey, and Philadelphia are eligible as well.

You cannot sign someone else up “in advance” — that is, if someone is eligible for the vaccine starting April 19, you will not be able to make them an appointment until April 19, even if the actual appointment date turns out to be in May.

Second, sign them up on a statewide or countywide database (optional, but highly recommended). These lists will help city, county, or state health departments determine interest for the COVID-19 vaccine and contact residents when vaccine appointments are available. Delaware, New Jersey, and Philadelphia each have a sign-up form; Pennsylvania, which does not have a statewide list, has multiple county lists available on WHYY’s guide here.

Next, locate vaccine providers in the area. WHYY has state-specific guides on county clinics and where to sign up in Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania; you can also use sites like Find a Shot, VaccinatePA, New Jersey’s COVID-19 Vaccine Finder, or the CDC’s Vaccine Finder tool to search by ZIP code and find nearby vaccine appointments.

Finally, register them for an appointment. You’ll generally need a full name, date of birth, address, contact information, and availability for the person you’re registering. When they show up to their vaccine appointment, they may need to provide proof of identity or eligibility — it’s a good idea to double-check with the vaccine provider to make sure.

If you have information about a volunteer vaccine opportunity, let us know at healthdesk@whyy.org.

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