Every morning, Jessica Stephens wakes up, gets her children ready for school, and then gets right to work. At 8:30 a.m. she begins searching for vaccine appointments on state and county sites and at pharmacies. She makes phone calls, sends emails and books vaccine appointments. For 12 hours, she continues her hunt.
And Stephens, of Amherst, who has helped book vaccine appointments for 3,000 people, won’t stop this full-time, voluntary endeavor until everyone who wants the shot has the opportunity to get it.
Stephens began this effort at the end of February, after she saw her friend in New York City doing similar work. She saw her friend, a “vaccine angel,” offering to help schedule jabs, and Stephens immediately brought that work into her own community.
She started by helping her next-door neighbor book his appointment. In that moment, she realized the great need to help people who don’t have easy access to a computer or who have problems navigating the websites.
“These are people who were just lost and didn’t know how to begin looking for appointments,” Stephen said. “I always thank them for finding us and encourage them to spread our information around.”
With realizing that need, Stephens created a sign-up Google form, where people fill out basic contact information, vaccine preferences and how far they’d travel to go get a coronavirus vaccine.
After she posted the form on her Facebook page, multiple family members and neighbors filled it out, and word spread quickly. The form was passed along to her school district, along with others. She realized this need was more than she could do alone, and her one-woman volunteer endeavor expanded to four.
Stephens’ neighbors — Elizabeth Bechtel, Deepa Saini, and Kristin Schneider — immediately joined to continue her efforts. The women do all the work in booking the appointments, and then call back the people who filled out the form and give them the good news – that they’re finally booked for their vaccines.
Though at times the group is overwhelmed with requests, the reward exceeds the work. They receive phone calls from people in tears thanking them for their help, and wanting to pass their contact information to other friends and family. Stephens has even called to confirm vaccine appointments where people would breathe heavy sighs and break down crying.
She can feel their relief through the phone.
“Health care should be readily accessible and we only want to do our part to help,” Stephens said. “The most rewarding part of this for me is finding a way to help… and as this progressed from helping a few neighbors to helping complete strangers, I realized more and more the need that was there. Helping other people out is an extremely rewarding feeling.”
For those still looking for a vaccine appointment, Stephens’ spreadsheet can be accessed here.
To research and book your own appointments, visit University at Buffalo’s WNY Vaccine Hound