Julie McDonald Commentary: Facebook Page Created by Siblings. Helps Find More Than 100,000 Vaccines

By Julie McDonald / For the Chronicle

For six weeks, I would log into the Department of Health’s website frequently, looking for a COVID-19 vaccine for my 75-year-old husband. I’d include his Medicare information, answer questions, and just see “No appointments available”.

As with so many people, finding a vaccine proved unsuccessful and frustrating. We made an appointment in Olympia to find out upon arrival that the recordings were reserved for those in need of the second dose of the vaccine. The same thing happened to a friend in Centralia.

A post on a friend’s Facebook page suggested checking out the Find a Covid Shot WA group. I joined this grassroots volunteer group and posted a notice asking for help. Within two days, my husband received his first dose of vaccine at a Safeway in Lacey.

Stories of relief and gratitude fill the Facebook page created in January by Sharla McKeon, a Seattle event manager, and her brother, Steve Starr, who works in marketing and technology. In less than two months, they trained 75 volunteers through Zoom to collect and share COVID-19 vaccination information and added nearly 40,000 members to the Facebook page who also provide tips on how to find recordings.

“It started because Sharla is at high risk, and we found that if two suburban Seattle white adults had trouble figuring out how to do it for those with systemic obstacles, it would be incredibly difficult,” Starr said. Refers to people with language barriers or limited access to the Internet and healthcare.

“We didn’t want them to be left behind or forgotten,” McKeon said.

The brother-sister team and many volunteers spend 15 to 20 hours a day connecting people to the coveted coronavirus vaccines.

“We found the volunteers by seeing who was helping in the group,” McKeon said. “We also have an application process. You sign a privacy policy / nondisclosure agreement and then complete a 90-minute initial training course. We train and continuously change what we do. “

When volunteer Maria Bannister wrote to me, I was a little suspicious of providing insurance and other information to a stranger, but I had run out of options.

“We’re trying to empower individuals to book their own appointment not only so that less personal information is shared, but also so they can turn around and help their neighbors get appointments,” said McKeon. “We know this is not always possible. That is why we do not allow our volunteers to keep people’s personal information after an appointment has expired.”

Lewis County has had several mass vaccinations at the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds, but those dates are filling up quickly.

“I know it’s a frustrating time for people looking for a vaccine there,” said JP Anderson, Lewis County director of public health. “I can assure you that we will do all we can.”

And he added, “It will get better.”

Chehalis’s Kyle Pratt, a 65-year-old with a compromised immune system, wrote a letter to the editor last week expressing his frustration over trying to find the vaccine. When the mass vaccinations opened on the exhibition grounds last week, he registered immediately and received his first shot on Thursday.

Although the trip took more than an hour, he described the event as well organized. He and his wife handed over their records and received the recordings while they were sitting in their car wearing masks and short-sleeved shirts. You will receive your second dose in three weeks at the exhibition center.

At first, Anderson said it was proving difficult to get allocations for the vaccine.

“Now that we’re starting to get it, it’s really starting to weigh on our local operations.”

It seems that people often find shots quickly on the Facebook page.

“We don’t have any secret inside heads up on openings, just amazing people who hit the update button,” said McKeon.

She said that volunteers selflessly give time and energy to help others.

“We’re here as neighbors to help our neighbors through the hiccups,” said McKeon, “and the humanity shared in the group has shown us a bright light in a really dark year.”

Bannister, who lives in Redmond and is retiring after 35 years in the biotech / pharmaceutical industry, volunteered to join the Facebook group after frustrated trying to find the vaccine for her older parents in South Florida.

“I could sense my mother’s panic, despair and utter helplessness through email,” she said, noting that her mother is deaf. “I knew I had to do something.”

Although she got up at four a.m. every morning to fight for shots on the east coast, she couldn’t find dates for her parents to get the vaccine until she reached out to a South Florida Vaccination Facebook group.

“After I found this group, my mother posted the situation of her and my father, and the congregation gathered to find their guardian angel,” said Bannister. “You were vaccinated that afternoon in an African Methodist Episcopal Church.”

She felt immense relief.

“I felt so grateful, believed in humanity, and was relieved, but also empowered, that I decided to look for a similar opportunity in Washington,” she said. “I have been trained to work with groups at risk such as the elderly, Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) communities, people with disabilities and people with language difficulties to secure vaccination appointments for them personally. I now do this every waking hour and am on the verge of having made 200 appointments. I’m successful because the FB page community is just great. Everyone shares their knowledge together, so every person I work with has the knowledge of 70 volunteers – not just me. “

Bannister also teaches others to search on the Facebook website.

It’s wonderful to see volunteers step up where the government has faltered. Washington ranks 31st among the states in the distribution of the vaccine it received. McKeon admitted that reaching everyone, especially underserved communities, is a big job.

“We hope that when all of this is over we can share what we’ve learned about this process with the government to make sure it goes smoother and fairer next time,” McKeon said. “We hope and are open to these talks.”

Why do you and your brother devote so much time and energy to the construction site?

“The comfort of knowing that our efforts save lives and make our community safer so we can return to life earlier, especially for the often-left communities that are helping to fill this equity gap,” said McKeon. “It’s a lot of work, but it was the best month of our life.”


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, can be reached at [email protected].

Comments are closed.