Early this year, when COVID-19 vaccines were in short supply, scoring an appointment was akin to winning the lottery. And find- ing a coveted slot took computer know-how and rapid-fire fingers—all of which could be especially challenging for senior citizens, who were a high-priority group.
Thankfully, members of the Maryland State Education Association stepped in as soon as the vaccines became available in January. Every day, after teaching their school classes online and prepping for the next day, the Montgomery County educators—who dubbed themselves the “vaccine hunters/las caza vacunas”—scoured vaccination websites till all hours of the night, creating color-coded spreadsheets and helping seniors make sense of complicated applications.
Within hours of securing their first appointments, word spread on social media. And after only a few days, 500 people had reached out to them by phone or email.
“Even though we were sleep-deprived and exhausted, it was worth it knowing we were helping people navigate a diffi- cult process,” says Spanish teacher Tanya Aguilar. “We cried with grandmas and grandpas who told us that they were desperate to get vac- cinated, so they could see their [families] once again. We knew we were making a difference, and that’s what kept us going.”
The educators helped scores of seniors get vaccinated, but a disturbing trend emerged: Seniors of color weren’t getting vaccinated at the same rate as their White counterparts. Aguilar and her fellow vaccine hunters, half of whom are fluent in Spanish, went to work to counteract this glaring inequity.
They scrawled the names of churches, community centers, unions, and influential leaders on legal pads, meticulously crossing them out after making contact. Soon, more and more of the team’s color-coded spreadsheets were filled with the names of African Americans and Latinos.
And while the educators helped many, the vaccine inequity remained worse than ever across the country. That’s why the educators took their concerns to the boardrooms of corporations such as CVS. They also persuaded influential leaders in Maryland to change faulty Spanish translations and confusing grammatical errors on the vaccine registration form for Spanish speakers.
In addition to supporting several community clinics by reaching out to the Latinx and African American communities and securing their appointments, the educators have been a valuable resource on-site at vaccine clinics as well. They have checked in patients, called to fill no-show spots, and translated for non-English speakers. Most recently, they even partnered with a major hospital to sponsor their own clinic aimed at reaching People of Color.
More than 8,500 vaccination appointments later, Aguilar and her fellow vaccine hunters have proven that they are making a difference—not only for students, but for grandparents, too.