We first learned about an artist friend’s serious illness (not COVID) via a Go Fund Me link established by his wife. She was looking for $25,000 to help pay his medical expenses, a fact of life in these United States that should horrify — and motivate — all of us who are not on Medicare, not to mention work to preserve and even extend it to more of the population. We immediately donated to the fund with enough other people (between $50 and $200 each) and soon the fund topped $30,000. Alas, crowdfunding did not save his life, but at least she has some way to help pay his bills.
I’m hugely interested in solutions like this using the kinder side of social media. And I’ve tapped into another version — crowdsourcing — to help my spouse and I and others get vaccinated against COVID-19. Even if you are unfamiliar with the term, chances are you are already using it: Wikipedia. The term crowdsourcing is made up of the terms “crowd” and “sourcing” [that] uses the masses to find a solution to a problem.
If you’re one of my South Florida readers and are over 65, you probably have had direct experience of the complete incompetence and chaos around the Publix vaccine delivery program. That doesn’t even begin to touch on the highly political nature* of this award to the corporate entity that funded the current governor> Or the fact that it leaves out communities of color who are suffering the greatest devastation from the disease: people who have limited access to online services; a local Publix supermarket; and/or the time to devote to enlisting their friends and family to spend an hour or more online to register for a vaccine appointment.
As for the design of the online access to an appointment itself, any one of our computer-literate grandchildren could probably have done better. So here’s what we’ve been going through, and I realize our experience pales in comparison to that of people left out of the process entirely. After three attempts to secure appointments, the last one an early family mini-crowdsource (five adults and seven screens), we came up with zip. Last Friday, as the numbers for Palm Beach County’s remaining vaccine supply plummeted from about 9000 to less than 150, our son managed to pull up the opening form. But by the time he entered our information, there were no pharmacies with available stock, closer than Vero Beach. Two people + two shots each = four different trips. Maybe it will yet come to that for us, and we’re lucky enough to have the time and transport.
We have already filled out Health Department forms (more than once!) and call the Florida Marlins’ hotline (786-629-5752) daily to check whether its vaccine drive-through service is taking appointments. We are on our own UMiami Health system, though they also ran out of the vaccine. We even applied for a drug trial with the J&J vaccine, only to learn during the informed consent process that it was a double-blind study involving a placebo. Does this all sound a tad desperate? Well, when you read about COVID variants potentially extending this pandemic out years, you can get a little anxious about becoming one of the casualties. Yes, at 85 and 79, we’re healthy with no pre-existing conditions, and we have some adorable masks we haven’t even tried out yet. But still and all.
So the latest: Thanks to some friends who have managed to hack the system and get their appointments/first shots through at a Publix nearby, we’re going to give crowdsourcing one more go this week. All of the team is well over 65, so it’s not a small ask them to get up at 5:30 and pull up that screen, then sit there eyes glazing over, watching it roll over ever minute in the hopes your number will come up. Meanwhile, you can scroll down to your county and watch the available doses dwindle until, maybe an hour later, it closes. As I said earlier, what genius designed this?
I hope we get our appointments this week because we’re exhausted spending so much time and energy on what, in the better world I dream of, would be a relatively simple procedure. When I was a child in Burma, the entire country would get vaccinated in a matter of days whenever the was an outbreak of Cholera or other infectious disease. It was mandatory and very efficient. And the country, at the time, was parliamentary democracy.
The good news is, once you’re out of the appointment bottleneck, it’s all easy-peasy. Those who have been lucky enough to get their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine say it takes 15 minutes at most, and appointments are made for the next shot, then and there.
The best way we can think of thanking friends for their effort on our behalf, is to pay it forward (now there’s a movie to add to my ‘feel good’ list!) So if you are still among the Great Unvaxed and live in South Florida, and don’t want to wait for the Federal Government to step in, please zap me an mail at yogimarika at gmail.com. If you have a good hack for the current system, please let me know that, too. And, as one of my book group friends noted: we have to make more political noise about the sheer awfulness and injustice of this vaccine rollout in Florida, especially for those who have been left behind. Let’s do it!
Photo: Hakan Nural https://unsplash.com/photos/niBllet7sTw
*Palm Beach Post: “I’m absolutely, absolutely disgusted that the governor of this state has 100% taken the authority to administer the vaccination program out of the hands of the public health department and given that authority to a corporate entity,” said Commissioner Melissa McKinlay. This decision is completely oblivious to the reality of economic disparity. Publix does not generally place its stores in poor neighborhoods. If you’re in Belle Glade or Pahokee along Lake Okeechobee, there’s no Publix for 30 miles. “There’s no way in humanity my seniors can make such a long drive, and I wouldn’t want them to,” says Belle Glade Mayor Steve Wilson.