Phase 1C individuals rush to find appointments as 2 million more people become eligible for COVID-19 vaccine

MADISON, Wis. — A realtor whose job has put her in contact with the public for most of the pandemic, Amy Sherman-Kortbein from Middleton drove to the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee with her son last week to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“It was such a relief,” she said with a laugh. “There was a little bit of crying.”

Her family falls into the 20 underlying health conditions in Phase 1C that made more than 2 million more people eligible to get vaccinated on Monday statewide. Her husband was getting his Monday afternoon at a local Walgreens. For Amy, the moment is emotional–and historical. Now, she’s helping others find appointments as well through the Milwaukee and Wisconsin Area Vaccine Hunters and Angels Facebook group.

Through the weekend and Monday morning as Phase 1C became eligible, posts in the group ramped up with people looking for appointments, posting tips, and sending out scheduling availability alerts as they found them. For many, eligibility and availability are two very different metrics–and the search is involving a lot of trial and error as providers tell clients to have patience and thousands of newly-eligible people search at once for a limited supply of shot slots.

“It’s just this process, it’s tough,” Julieann Hoffarth said, a Madison resident who spent days trying to line one up. “I scoured the internet–I’m a good troll, I can find things.”

A Wisconsin state employee, she checked with her employer to see if they’d be offering clinics. Then she checked with her healthcare provider and multiple pharmacies, without success. Then her friend woke her up Saturday morning with a text message. There were some Walgreens slots available, she said.

“Now I’m set up and ready to go for tomorrow,” Hoffarth said Monday. “It’s really exciting.”

Clarissa Russ in Madison used the group to help book vaccine appointments for her whole family under 1C after a neighbor told her about it. Without that, she said, “None of my close family members or friends may not have been lucky enough to find these appointments.”

Health care providers are fielding thousands of calls an hour with the new eligibility, spokespeople said Monday, and many are booked for appointments days into the future. Ultimately, a bit of patience–and a little trial and error–will go a long way.

“Every place is different which is why it’s so hard for everyone,” Sherman-Kortbein noted, who’s been helping people find sign-ups. So far, she says, everyone she’s helped has been able to find an appointment within a week.

The Facebook group now includes more than 8,500 members and is growing at a rate of about a thousand people every couple days, founder Bob Orech said. Moderators are stepping back as hundreds of others step up to help new posters find appointments amid the swath of new eligibility.

“It’s really about getting people in contact with the right organization, the right retailer, the right healthcare provider,” Orech said. “Honestly, everyone is jumping in to help one another, so that’s what’s really making this easier.”

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