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With doses in short supply, thousands of frustrated COVID-19 vaccine seekers are turning to social media for help and getting it

Angie Leventis Lourgos, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Health & Fitness

He added that he doesn’t blame government agencies or the retailers providing immunizations for the convoluted process.

“This is really unprecedented times,” he said. “I don’t think there was a playbook for how to manage this virus. So I think they’re doing the best they can under some really tough circumstances.”

This includes a team of members who banded together to find appointments for seniors, sometimes booking them directly for those who need help, sometimes tracking down appointments and then walking the fellow member through the process.

Many of those helped by the Facebook site lack smartphones or have spotty internet, tools critical to accessing vaccine. Some struggle to stay awake until midnight or early hours of the morning, when some retailers offer new appointments.

“If we didn’t have those angels out there helping senior citizens, there might be hundreds without appointments,” Naglewski said.

One member recently posted concerns about the potential for scammers to target the site, cautioning membership to be wary and never give out sensitive information like a Social Security number.

“I think it’s important for people to be very careful and cautious,” Naglewski said, adding that members seeking help don’t have to give any personal information to get assistance, if they’re uncomfortable doing so.

In general, the Illinois attorney general’s office advises the public to ignore unsolicited online, phone and text offers for the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Hang up on any calls, including robocalls, which direct you to take immediate action or provide personally-identifiable information, such as your Social Security number or bank account number,” the agency said. “Do not buy any kind of COVID-19 vaccine or treatment on the internet or from an online pharmacy. You should not have to pay any amount of money out of pocket in order to receive the vaccine. Everyone eventually will be able to receive the vaccine, even if they do not have health insurance.”

Success stories

Karolina Ash joined Chicago Vaccine Hunters recently, and with the site’s help, found two appointments in early March for her parents.

 

“I was elated,” said Ash, 35, of the Old Town neighborhood. “I was just so grateful to give them some autonomy back in their life, to give my mother something that gave her peace of mind.”

Soon she began hunting for appointments for other seniors, joining the “vaccine angel” team through the Facebook site.

“Because not everyone has a daughter,” she said. “To see senior citizens scrambling for vaccine shots has been very humbling.”

So far, she’s found appointments for five people directly.

After receiving the first shot, one woman publicly thanked Ash for her assistance on the Facebook page.

“This group has done so much for so many, and my only payback is to try and help others in any way I can,” she posted on the site. “My wish is for everyone on this page to have their own success story to post!”

On Friday, Illinois surpassed 2 million COVID-19 vaccinations administered statewide, according to public health officials. About half a million people have received both doses, not quite 4% of the population.

To Ash, each person who gets immunized is one more step toward herd immunity and a potential end to the pandemic. She longs to safely get together with family and friends, and attend large public events and community gatherings once again.

“It gives me hope that we’re all going to get to go somewhere and do something together soon,” she said. “Maybe we’ll have a festival. Maybe we’ll have the Taste of Chicago again. I can’t wait to not be afraid of people. And I can’t wait for people to not be afraid of me.”

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