Booking COVID-19 vaccines, despite the life-saving implications, can be super tricky. That’s where alumna Holly Adams and others of the Bryn Athyn COVID-19 immunization volunteer group stepped in, booking over 400 immunizations for the surrounding community, 100+ of which Holly has been able to procure herself.
Late each night, between 11:50pm and 12:45am, Rite Aid opens up their COVID-19 immunization appointments. CVS releases them at midnight, and again around 5am-7am. In order to help Bryn Athyn community members, Holly Adams (BA ‘14) has been working with a group of volunteers to make these vaccines as accessible as possible to all who are eligible.
During the first few weeks of booking appointments, Holly and the rest of the volunteer crew had to keep a “pretty weird schedule.” She says, “Some of us took naps after dinner, then we would wake up for the midnight drop at Rite Aid, go to sleep for a few hours, and get back up to check CVS at 5am.” Over time the team has become incredibly efficient, dividing up the nights/mornings, resulting in hundreds of vaccination appointments. Those helped by this initiative include residents of Cairnwood Village, a local retirement community.
Holly lets us in on how she approached such an impressive feat:
Q: What inspired you to get involved with this project? The process of booking vaccine appointments has been challenging for many due to limited supply and the difficult online scheduling systems. After struggling myself to book appointments for a few of my family members, I realized that there were going to be people in the community that needed help. I started by reaching out and offering to schedule appointments for a few of my neighbors, and when a local volunteer, Ingrid Herder asked if I would be willing to help book appointments for people at Cairnwood Village, I knew instantly that I wanted to be a part of the volunteer group she was putting together.
Our goal at the beginning of this process was to get vaccine appointments for everyone that wanted one at Cairnwood Village. After we reached that goal, we moved on to helping educators and people in the BA community who were eligible to be vaccinated.
Q: About how many appointments have you/your team been able to book? As of April 7th, I have booked 145 appointments, while our team has successfully secured appointments for 417 people in the community.
Q: What did the process look like? Are there any moments/anecdotes that stand out to you? A lot goes into the process of getting vaccine appointments. Our free time is spent fielding phone calls, responding to emails and texts, and checking vaccine finder websites to look for cancelations that we can pick up throughout the day.
In the evenings, we divide up our master list and prepare to book appointments. Around 11:30pm we load multiple tabs on various browsers and devices, and input the qualifying information for the people we are hoping to book for. When the appointments start releasing just before midnight, it’s a mad dash to book as many as we can. The online schedulers often have glitches, so we never know how it’s going to go. Some nights we can get through our entire list, while other nights we won’t even book a single appointment.
We also spend time researching and reading about what vaccine each location is carrying, when new locations will be added, what time appointments will drop, and what the latest tips and tricks are for each online scheduler. Every website is slightly different and the system is always changing, so there’s definitely been a lot of trial and error throughout the entire process.
I think one of my favorite parts of the process is the thrill of victory. Because appointments are so hard to come by, it’s always exciting when we have a successful day. There was one night where we were able to clear our entire list. I booked twelve appointments, another volunteer Rachel booked nine, and Ingrid was able to get the last three on the list! It was a great team effort, and there were a lot of happy people the next morning. Another evening that comes to mind was the night where our team successfully dropped and picked up three canceled appointments in a row, which is almost impossible to do! It took careful coordination and fast typing.
Q: What's been one of the most challenging, surprising and/or hopeful aspects of this? The most rewarding part of this process is hearing how happy people are when they get their appointment confirmation! Many have struggled for weeks trying to find appointments by the time they reach out to us, and it’s always exciting when we are finally able to get them a spot.
I think one of the most challenging aspects for me has been the odd schedule and lack of sleep. Some nights I’ll be up until 1 or 2am searching for appointments and cancelations, while other nights we will get through the list by midnight.
The most surprising aspect of this project was the number of thank you gifts that showed up on my front porch! Our group went into this project with a desire to help the community, and all that we asked for in return was for people to pay it forward. I have been thanked in so many ways, from gifts to thank you cards, to donations made to my softball team at the Academy of the New Church Secondary Schools. The response has been truly overwhelming.
Q: What advice would you give someone looking to do a similar vaccine effort in their local community? I would recommend they gather a good group of volunteers. It has been amazing to get to know all of the volunteers throughout this process. We have a daily group chat, and it’s been really fun to share this experience with them: Ingrid Herder, Rachel Layden, Gretchen Keith, Catie Jungé, Lianne Reese, Brian Keith, Gail Cooper, LynnEllen King and Meg Keegan.
Q: How has this effort affected your outlook on the COVID crisis? It has given me hope for the future. With each vaccine appointment booked, I know we are one step closer to returning to “normal” life again.