‘If you’re eligible, we’ll help you’: Facebook group helps Wisconsinites secure vaccine appointments

MADISON, Wis. – Becoming eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine is the first step; then comes actually scheduling an appointment.

“If you’re eligible, that’s only part of it,” said Bob Orech of Germantown. “If you’re eligible, that’s great, but then it’s finding the access.”

Orech knows as well as anyone that waiting for the shot is a heavy burden.

“It was always in the back of my head: My God, if I bring it home and get my wife sick,” he said.

Now he’s helping lighten the burden for others.

“My first area of focus was trying to help some of the elderly I know, people’s parents,” Orech said. “It is kind of overwhelming and frustrating.”

He started by trying to find appointments for his parents. Seeing that other areas had Facebook groups, he made a similar one for Wisconsin to help others navigate the scheduling maze.

“We don’t advocate for anyone skipping ahead,” Orech said. “If you’re eligible, we’ll help you.”

That can mean tips like setting early alarms to see the Walgreens appointments usually put up at 6 a.m. or checking to see if pharmacies or clinics have leftover vaccine doses. Orech has had pharmacists reach out to him directly with additional doses for eligible members.  He and a handful of moderators help members secure their appointments.

“One of the mods said she had helped, last week, a group of I believe about 375 elderly people find vaccine,” moderator Sue Adams said. “I just think that’s a pathway straight to heaven if you’re able to do that.”

In that case, the group has a fitting name: “Milwaukee & Wisconsin Area Vaccine Hunters and Angels.” As of Monday night, it had more than 5,400 members.

Adams, a former Department of Health Services employee and current poll worker, knows the scheduling frustration first hand, as she looked to find an appointment before a February election.

“I looked in just dozens and dozens of sources,” she said, adding she took detailed notes.

As a moderator, she’s now able to pass along her knowledge. She suggests people be flexible about when and where they receive the vaccine and to try to stay patient.

“We have to remember that getting vaccinated is for me, for you and for all,” Adams said.

Reaching herd immunity is a group effort. In the Facebook group’s case, it’s neighbors lifting up neighbors. For Orech and moderators, it’s almost like a full time job, but one they’re happy to do for free.

“Hearing everyone’s own story, how it’s impacted them last year and to see that smile or glimmer of hope or a text with a heart, that’s my payment,” Orech said. “The overwhelming response of being thankful and (saying) ‘Hey, how else can I help now that I’m scheduled or got my shot,’ that’s been very rewarding.”

Orech recently became eligible for the vaccine and got his first dose.

“The first shot I had, I literally felt this burden come off,” he said. “That sense of relief.”

He’s still doing the heavy-lifting to pass that sense of lightness to others.

“Until we’re not needed, we’ll be here almost 24/7 helping people,” he said.