Many Long Island residents had difficulties finding Covid-19 vaccination appointments in the first few months of the vaccine’s rollout. Add to that the fact that most appointments were made online, and some people are not so Internet savvy, there was surely a need for help.
Luckily, Long Islanders seeking to get the shot could turn to a trusted Facebook group of volunteers: “Long Island Covid-19 Vaccination Information.” The group’s founders, Melanie Gorman and Ericka Bolte, say the group is responsible for booking thousands of vaccine appointments for Long Islanders since February.
“Melanie and I were on another Covid-19 vaccine Facebook group, and it was clear that there needed to be something a bit more hyperlocal because New York is such a diverse state,” Bolte says. “So we impulsively decided to create this group based on the need.”
The group attracted not only people seeking appointments but also people looking to help out. More than 20 people volunteered to make appointments and many others post updated information about eligibility, where to get the vaccine, and how to get it. Several of the volunteers say that they’ve booked more than 200 appointments each.
“I was so lucky to find the group,” says Christina Vilbig, a group moderator. “It really helped me find appointments to get my family and friends vaccinated as soon as they were eligible. I became a moderator shortly after I joined because I wanted to give back to the group that helped me so much.”
As of April 27, organizers say, the group had more than 17,000 members. Behind the scenes is a well-organized operation of moderator group chats, Google Docs and spreadsheets with all kinds of important information to properly manage the group and make sure appointments are handled correctly. The moderators even have a link to a public document in the group’s “About” section for people to see links to the various vaccine sites across LI.
All of this was before Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that all New Yorkers 16 and older could walk into state-run vaccination sites for their vaccine without an appointment starting April 29.
Zabrina Barile, another volunteer, says that though demand is decreasing for appointments, the group will still be active.
“With trials underway for [kids 12 to 15 years old] and potential booster shots being noted as the next probable step in fighting this virus, we recognize the need for vaccination assistance or guidance, and informational updates will still be there for quite some time,” she says.
Volunteers add that the experience has been rewarding and cathartic.
“We have all been impacted by this [pandemic] in one way or another,” Barile says. “We are forever changed, but it has not all been for the worse.”
For more coronavirus coverage, visit longislandpress.com/coronavirus.