When Parkland, Fla., couple Katherine Quirk and Russell Schwartz heard that the state planned to require citizens to make online appointments to get vaccinated, they immediately realized that seniors, like their parents, were going to face challenges using that interface.
On Jan. 1, they created a Facebook group to help seniors and their families find information on how and where to sign up for COVID-19 vaccine appointments. The Facebook page has more than 21,000 members, and the couple estimates that since they launched the effort, they have been able to help more than 1,000 seniors get vaccinated.
KATHERINE QUIRK: I’m Katherine Quirk. I’m a pediatric hematology oncology nurse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and one of the co-founders of the South Florida COVID-19 Vaccination Info Page.
RUSSELL SCHWARTZ: And I’m Russell Schwartz. I’m an elementary school principal in Broward County Florida. And I’m one of the co-founders of the same page.
KATHERINE QUIRK: My hospital that I work as a nurse at was one of the first hospital systems to go ahead and roll out the vaccination to the general public, to the group that is permitted right now to get the vaccine, which is the 65 and older and also health care workers. On January 1st we were home together watching the Rose Bowl parade and started talking about the challenges that we thought the elderly population, especially, was going to be facing as this rollout happened across South Florida.
And, potentially, across the state anywhere. And so we started talking about what we needed to do. And what we realized very quickly just in our conversations about it was that we really needed to bridge that technology gap and really help seniors have a place that they could go to to, you know, learn about how to get the vaccine. So that’s what we tried to do really, make it like a one stop shop. So that we can let them know as quickly as possible what’s available. And then, if they do need assistance booking, we can offer that as well.
RUSSELL SCHWARTZ: And what we didn’t realize is is that that information wasn’t good enough for everyone because the 65 and older group, not everyone in that age group but a lot of them, didn’t have either the time– because everything was time-sensitive. The appointments would open at 8:15 in the morning. So if you didn’t get that tweet at 8:15 in the morning, you missed it because the points were gone in five, ten minutes.
Some people don’t have technology available. Some people don’t have the skills and knowledge to use the technology in the quick way that you have to to book appointments. And it got to the point where we realized that this was not just a few people that needed assistance. We needed to really start thinking about how we’re going to have a greater impact because there was the need. We saw there was a glaring need that the information was not good enough. We needed to bridge that gap like Katherine was saying.
KATHERINE QUIRK: For people that cannot make an appointment on their own, we do assist with that. We do our best to get them an appointment based on where they live or based on where they’re willing to drive. And we have been very successful with that. We have our full time jobs. We’re focused there. When we get home, we say hi to the kids. We get dinner going. You know, we feed them really quick. And we jump right back in to working on the page and working with the volunteers.
And I think what’s been really impressive is that we all are just doing this because we care. To see the dedication and the willingness that the volunteers have to put this time in, it’s just amazing. From the beginning when we realized how successful this was, that became a very important piece to us where we did really want to get out there on a national level because we did feel like this is something that’s so necessary. And so with that, we have been able to help a couple of other groups.
RUSSELL SCHWARTZ: We have been approached and we’ve helped out New York. They have one there. Lehigh Valley has one. New Jersey has a large one. Last I saw, they were over at 5,000 members. So they’re growing. Pennsylvania just started one. And Atlanta reached out to us today and California.
KATHERINE QUIRK: Southern California.
RUSSELL SCHWARTZ: And those are the ones we know about. I mean, I’m hoping that there’s more out there too. When we get all these messages from people who are extremely thankful and, you know, are shedding tears because they have their appointment finally and they could finally make plans to see their family if they haven’t seen in a while. Those are the things that we really hold and treasure really and keeps us going.