More than 1,100 miles separate Adriana Scamparini and Paula Machado, the first works in a bank in the Big Apple and the second is the manager of a communication agency in Florida, but both receive the same messages of thanks on their cell phones for have helped dozens of elderly people to get an appointment to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
The first person Scamparini helped was his father. He tried to get her an appointment the day it was announced that people over 65 could be vaccinated in New York. “It took me 18 hours. It was all very confusing. Each provider would have its own website, ”recalls the 45-year-old lawyer, born and raised in Brazil. After that first odyssey, as he already knew the system and had the passwords saved, he began offering his services to family and friends.
With the help of the doorman of her home and the doormen of her friends, the news was circulating “from word of mouth” and has already managed to get some 70 people to get their doses and has even accompanied the elderly to the distribution centers . Despite doing it in a totally altruistic way, Scamparini has received, in addition to messages full of heart emoticons, with chocolates and flowers.
Vacunación en el condado de Seminole, en Florida. Vaccination against COVID-19 in Seminole County, Florida. Seminole County Government.
For his part, Machado, who worked with Seminole County in Florida to distribute 500 vaccines to the region’s Latino population, says with a laugh that he is now “the most blessed person.”
“All the old men I helped gave me the blessing, some even started to cry and thanked me for being a human who spoke with them and explained everything carefully,” he says.
This Puerto Rican of Cuban parents made each of the reservations over the phone, gave her number to a couple of churches in the area and in 48 hours she had already distributed all the appointments that the counted person gave her and even managed to get a list of wait with hundreds of names.
The Internet, a tool that the elderly cannot always access
“Many older people do not have access to a computer, less know how to use it or navigate in English,” he highlights.
Machado exemplifies this fact by pointing out that one of the steps that he had to fill out to be able to make an appointment was to put an email, to which the vast majority answered that they did not have an email, some of them did not have a telephone to receive text messages , so he chose to put his personal email and ask the elderly to write down their reference number on paper, in case they asked for it on the day of the appointment.
From the accent, Machado believes that the majority of the people who called him were from Puerto Rico, followed by Venezuelans, Cubans, Colombians and a few Mexicans. In addition, the journalist and translator also says that none of the people who contacted her distrusted the vaccine itself, but they did have doubts about whether it was advisable to be vaccinated with certain health problems.
Awilda Rivera, a 73-year-old Puerto Rican, was one of 500 Latinos who got vaccinated on February 15 in Seminole. She got the Scamparini number from a friend and in addition to her date, she arranged for her sisters and their husbands.
“Getting on a date is a nightmare [a nightmare]. I went to the page that a friend gave me and when I called the phone, they hung up on me. I looked in other places about five times and everything was full, full, full and when this door opened for me I said: ‘Wherever I am in Florida, I’m going,’ ”the retiree emphasizes.
Rivera describes the day he was vaccinated as perfect, it only took half an hour to arrive, he did not have to queue, there were volunteers who explained to him in Spanish how to fill out the documents, everything was very clean and the finishing touch to the day was that after the injection gave him an ice cream with the face of Mickey Mouse.
The Democratic representative of the 49th district of the sunny state Carlos Guillermo Smith, explains that the low vaccines of the Hispanic community in the region are alarming. “The situation in Florida is complicated, because the African American and Hispanic communities represent 40% of the population, but this same group represents only 13% of those who have been vaccinated.”
Distribution of appointments at the entrance of supermarkets so that there is more equity. The politician explains that the reason that justifies this low percentage is the lack of access to appointments of the Latino population, either because they do not have access or computer knowledge or because they do not live near a vaccination center.
To fight against this digital divide, Smith participated, together with the pastor of the Jesús de Nazaret Episcopal Church, José Rodríguez, in a conference that distributed 500 appointments at the doors of two supermarkets in Orlando.
“We wanted to make sure that the vaccines that we had available to the Hispanic community were distributed fairly,” says Smith to explain why they chose this peculiar location and not a church, for example.
The concern that exists for the Hispanic community to have all the possible information is not a characteristic that occurs only in Florida, there are also volunteers in states of the rest of the country who are fighting to break the technological distance between vaccines and arms of elderly US residents.
“We knew it was really important to publish the content of our portal in Spanish and Chinese as quickly as possible, because we know that those communities have been really disproportionately affected by the pandemic and we wanted to make sure that this information was also available to them as as quickly as possible, ”says Zoelle Egner, who left her job in marketing this month to dedicate herself full time to Vaccinate VA (website that lists which state centers have vaccines in the state of California).
What is peculiar about Vaccinate CA is that the information they post comes from dozens of telephone calls that the portal volunteers make daily to vaccination centers and experts in the distribution of vaccines.
“We have seen steady growth throughout the month. We had hundreds of thousands of people visit the page and it continues to increase over time as we spread the word and more vaccines are available. There was kind of a spike a few weeks ago when more vaccines went online and then unfortunately there was a very serious shortage, frustration increased among the population and searches went down, ”explains Egner.
The tech community comes together to help people at risk
Daniel Benamy and Michael Kuznetsov also try to do their bit to help make the complex system of getting a date in New York City easier. They have been working on the NYC Vaccine List for a month , a portal where New Yorkers can see at a glance which city centers in the Big Apple have appointments.
“The broader tech community is coming together [to help]. In many cases, money is what moves people, but in this case we all want to help people in the fastest, easiest and most fair way possible ”, highlights Kuznetsov in reference not only to the dozens of volunteers who work in this website, but to donations of software and other tools that the page has received.
Likewise, Kuznetsov, who in this project is in charge of obtaining data related to vaccines that the centers do not share on the internet, points out that every day he asks himself what he can do to add value to the project and how to make the information relevant. clear enough for someone unfamiliar with the internet to understand.
“We are in an emergency situation right now and the most important thing we can do is make sure that people who can get a vaccine know where their dose is and how to get it. We think that if the vaccine is in a refrigerator instead of being in someone’s arm, that is a failure for everyone. Well, it means that our society will take longer to get out of this pandemic ”.
Organizations working with minorities get the scoop on the arrival of vaccines
The extra step that the NYC Vaccine List decided to take was to create direct communication with organizations that work with minorities that do not have access to information posted on the web, some of them Latinos.
“When there are a lot of new vaccines available we say to them, ‘Hey, since we know that you are an organization that focuses on vaccine equity in New York City, we are going to help you so that you can stay on top of new vaccines as soon as possible. as we see them . ‘ Which is not something we can do for everyone, but it is a way that we can try to help them, ”explains Kuznetsov.