Cousins Jacqueline Teague and Amelie Beck are juggling hybrid learning, extracurricular activities and now a volunteer project helping seniors in Kentucky get Covid-19 vaccine appointments.
After helping their own grandparents get the vaccine in Louisville, the pair knew there were other seniors in their community who would benefit from a helping hand.
So far, the high school students in Louisville have helped 400 seniors register to get their vaccine with Norton Healthcare Hospital network, one of three health care partners allowing sign-ups for the vaccine in Kentucky, according to the state.
Kentucky currently has 376,253 confirmed cases and has administered 483,777 doses with 93,651 people fully vaccinated, according to data from Johns Hopkins.
Kentucky is administering vaccines to anyone 70 and over, first responders, K-12 school personnel, health-care personnel and at assisted-living and long-term care facilities, according to its plan. Twenty-eight states include people ages 65 and older in their phase 1a or 1b priority groups as of January 19, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Older people are struggling
Many of the nation’s 50 million seniors over 65 are struggling to navigate confusing vaccine distribution plans that can differ from state to state and in some cases, county to county.
“I would estimate 10% to 20% are at risk of missing out on vaccines because they’re homebound, live alone, don’t have transportation or lack reliable social connections,” Dr. Anand Iyer, an Alabama pulmonologist who specializes in caring for older adults said. “Unfortunately, those are the same factors that put them at risk of poor outcomes from Covid.”
Despite these problems, the extent of this phenomenon has not been documented yet.
“I think the most important part of this is them (seniors) knowing that we’re there for them every step of the way,” Beck said. “Everyone has been so lonely, locked up for almost 10 months so it’s really a sense of relief for them to be able to get the vaccine because they’re so scared.”
Tech support for Covid-19 vaccines
The pair said they completed the entire sign-up process for their own grandparents because they had issues getting through verification processes and authentication steps, “and then when we started helping their friends, we realized it was a more common issue than we expected,” Teague said.
Two weeks ago, the duo created a template, set up a private Facebook page and a phone line for seniors all over Kentucky to call if they need help scheduling their vaccine, dubbed VaxConnectKY.
Shortly after the template was made, Teague and Beck’s grade school and high school ended up posting the flyer on their respective Facebook pages and calls started pouring in. The two say they won’t stop until the requests come to a halt.
VaxConnectKY’s system is simple: A request falls into their hands, they help seniors get into or create a MyNortonChart account so they can enter their health information on their own.
The cousins don’t take anyone’s sensitive information themselves; they just guide people through the technical steps.
Seniors without internet access are a big concern to the pair.
“We give them a phone number to go on a hospital waitlist,” Teague said. “We feel like they appreciate the contact or touch point.”
Kate Eller, system director of communications and public relations at Norton Healthcare, praised the cousins for their effort.
“We appreciate these young women for seeing a need and helping to provide an essential and heart-felt service,” she told CNN in a statement. “Their idea to help seniors in our community register for their COVID-19 vaccinations is a great example of true servant leadership.
“Technology can be challenging, and we have been encouraging seniors to ask for help from friends or family when possible.”
Because the cousins are doing hybrid learning, their alternating school schedules allow them to work on VaxConnectKY around the clock. When one is in school, the other is manning the calls and emails.
On days when they’re both busy, Beck said they’re calling people back on their lunch breaks and between classes with help from their siblings who they’ve also trained to step in when necessary.
“We’ve had people calling us, breaking down about how they’re grateful to us that we’re helping them get it and now they’re finally able to get it, ” Beck said. “It’s a good feeling for us knowing that we are helping without contributing to Kentucky’s numbers in Covid-19 cases.”
VaxConnectKY has successfully helped people in New Jersey and Florida, Teague said. They’re currently researching how to help a request that’s come from Missouri though the pair say they don’t have the bandwidth to expand anymore to states outside of Kentucky.
To assist, CNN has created a list of vaccination information pages for all 50 states and territories. The phone number, email and website for each state is included.
“We wish the system was more simplified,” Teague said. “There’s a lot of hoops you have to jump through to get your appointment, so I just wish the whole system was easier to navigate.”