No Internet Access? No Time? LA Collective Books Shots for Those Left Behind

No Internet Access? No Time? LA Collective Books Shots for Those Left Behind

Where are the vaccine clinics open at night?

It's a question volunteers from Get Out the Shot hear often as they book appointments for people who have a hard time doing it themselves — many of them without internet or much free time.

"My fear is the technology and the way you book appointments is not getting easier," said Rebecca Lehrer, who started helping in February when the effort was still driven by a Facebook group.

California's COVID-19 vaccine eligibility tiers will become obsolete next week when anyone 16 or older is free to book an appointment. On Thursday, Long Beach made shots available to all residents 16 and over, while Cal State Los Angeles opened its site up to people at least 18, before it was overwhelmed and started turning crowds away.

The rush at the Los Angeles university may be a sign of what's to come.

Known as GOTS, the volunteer collective of more than 300 is expecting its caseload to get bigger even as more vaccine appointments become available. The group is one of a handful that have cropped up since vaccines landed in California.

Recently, software developers across the country started launching automated websites and Twitter bots to blast out new slots. But those platforms haven't proven to be the solution for everyone.

"It's really a myth," said Liz Schwandt, an L.A. preschool program director who started Get Out the Shot. "Even if supply increases — even if there are more appointments — they're still not grab-able or accessible for the most vulnerable."

Many have specific concerns and requests — ones that make getting a shot much more complicated than just clicking a button on MyTurn.

Some call in because their employers won't give them time off to get vaccinated. Others want to secure an appointment at night, when most clinics are closed. Occasionally, callers are looking for a certain vaccine brand.

And many are nervous about navigating a health care system in which insurance and immigration status are often barriers to care, Schwandt said.

"They're used to having a system that doesn't work for them," said Schwandt.

The issue speaks to the enormous feat of implementing a national vaccination strategy that relies on people having stable internet, job flexibility and free time.

"One of the neighbors I'm trying to book for — who doesn't have internet — is not on Twitter looking at Walgreens' latest appointment drop," said Schwandt.

As the state inches towards an appointment free-for-all, public health officials say they will continue to use single-use "access codes" for target groups and residents in zip codes in the bottom half of the Healthy Places Index.

In February, misuse of state-issued vaccine access codes designed to serve Black and Latino communities rattled California's equity program. Many of the L.A. residents who used and circulated those credentials were not yet eligible.

"Our team is also working closely with community-based organizations that are trusted voices on the ground," added Sami Gallegos, spokesperson for the California Department of Public Health.

Schwandt hopes to secure blocks of appointments next week for those calling in. So far, every person who gets a shot through the service refers about 10 people back.

"People are already calling this week to pre-schedule," said volunteer Michael Altneu, an EMT who plans to administer vaccinations in Del Mar later this month. "I think people are going to try to do it first on their own. A few days after, when all the shots get booked up, we're going to see a deluge of calls."

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