116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Sometimes, getting a COVID-19 vaccine takes a village.
Especially early on in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, when demand was much greater than the supply making its way into the state, many Iowans tried and failed to find doses. Some described the rush to vaccine providers’ websites to get an appointment likening to “the Hunger Games” that left vulnerable individuals behind.
In the midst of it, some Iowans have made it their mission to aid others in their search for a vaccine as part of a larger effort to help the community reach immunity against the novel coronavirus. Some have created websites or social media pages to send out public alerts for open appointments.
Others, including a handful who spoke to The Gazette this week, have even gone as far as scheduling those appointments themselves.
In between jobs and classes and children's’ nap times, the helpers with whom The Gazette spoke — all women — have spent countless hours searching online for available COVID-19 vaccines and scheduling those appointments for dozens of other individuals.
In Sara O’Donnell’s case, that effort has helped nearly 500 Iowans find a vaccine.
“To me, it feels like there’s hope for the first time and I can finally do something to help,” said O’Donnell, who lives in Kalona. “Throughout the whole pandemic, I was frustrated. I didn’t feel like could do anything.”
Over the past several weeks as vaccine eligibility has opened to more Iowans, O’Donnell and many others have posted on social media offering their time to sign up individuals for appointments as they become available. In many cases, they’re helping complete strangers.
“I think it kind of speaks to their desperation,” said O’Donnell, who emphasized she never keeps the personal information shared with her.
“The state didn’t have anything organized … so if someone says, ‘I’ll do it,’ they’re happy to share their information,” she said.
O’Donnell, 44, works part-time from home and schedules vaccine appointments in between her job and her children's online school.
In addition to scheduling appointments, Lauren Steenhoek also offers advice broadly on how to find and schedule vaccine appointments. A few weeks ago, Steenhoek posted a video online of a step-by-step walk-through teaching views how to sign-up for an appointment on the Hy-Vee website.
Steenhoek, 35, who is a stay-at-home mom for her two sons, was advised by her doctor not to get the vaccine herself because she’s pregnant. So scheduling appointments for others feels like protection for herself and her baby, she said.
It’s also rewarding to help alleviate the stress and worries other Iowans feel by taking away the burden of finding that vaccine, Steenhoek said.
“I remember what it was like to find my parents' vaccines. Once we were able to do that, we could see them again,” she said. “I want that feeling for others.”
Many individuals these women have helped tend to be older Iowans, the helpers said. In the COVID-19 vaccine rollout — which at times has been hectic and fast-paced — older generations who don’t have internet access or lacked the technical skills to get an appointment quickly have struggled the most, said McKenna Tingle, 20.
“A lot of the people reaching out aren’t doing so for themselves,” Tingle said. “They’re reaching out for their parents, grandparents, co-workers, neighbors and so on.”
Tingle is a Drake University student who has scheduled a handful of COVID-19 vaccine appointments between going to school full-time as well as time spent at her job and with student organizations. Despite her sometimes hectic schedule, she said she wanted to help ease the process to find an appointment for others.
“It’s worth the time to help people because if that was my grandparents, parents or friend, I’d want someone to help them, too,” she said.
Anecdotally, O’Donnell said she’s found the demand for vaccine appointments has slowed down. Fewer people are reaching out to her for help, and available appointment times seem to be staying open for longer periods of time.
Even if the demand is lessening, though, there still are Iowans who need assistance in finding a shot. O’Donnell said she still has a handful of people on her list for whom she’s waiting to schedule COVID-19 vaccine appointments.
“As long as people need the help, I’m willing to help them,” O’Donnell said.
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