A small group of tech-savvy retirees hunts for vaccine doses for older people
Back in January, 65-year-old Bonnie McGuire got her first shot of the COVID vaccine. The process for her was very easy.
“I got a phone call that there was a shot waiting for me. It was, like, at 9 in the morning, and could I be there at 10? I said absolutely. So I shot down to the Safeway on Gravelly Lake, which is, I don't know, maybe a 20-minute drive from here. I walked in. Piece of cake. Got the shot, got the immunization card, walked out,” recalls McGuire.
But shortly afterward, that window of ease slammed shut as demand for shots quickly outpaced supply. Today, for many people who are eligible to be vaccinated, finding a COVID vaccine is almost a full-time job. McGuire started to hear from friends and family members who were having a difficult time securing an appointment.
McGuire, along with several other tech-savvy retirees, saw a need and jumped in. Most of the people in the group are former educators and administrative staff who worked for Tacoma Public Schools. McGuire is the former principal of Foss High School.
Over the course of the last few weeks, this group -- which calls itself Vaccine Bookers and has a Facebook page -- has learned different ways how to find available doses. They mostly stay clear of the Department of Health’s website.
“While the state site is incrementally improving, it’s very fragmented,” McGuire says. “I can do in a half an hour what an unskilled person, it will take them four or five hours to do. It's ridiculous.”
Some days, the group spends 12 to 14 hours connecting people with available appointments.
“When you're 85 years old, it doesn't matter how well you type. You haven't typed for your life. If someone is two keystrokes ahead of you, which might be the 78-year-old, you're going to lose that appointment,” laments McGuire.
McGuire says even though the state is trying its best, the system for finding shots is inequitable.
“Someone who doesn't make a lot of money is paying for their internet based on data usage. They cannot be on their computer for the hours on end that I can be. Someone who's living on Social Security and a rather small pension, now they're being aced out by anyone who is able to buy access to the internet,” says McGuire.
Now that the word has gotten out, the group has received thousands of requests for help. So far they’ve connected more than 500 people with available doses. Right now, the group is prioritizing people of color.