When Katherine Quirk and her fiancé Russell Schwartz woke up on New Years day, they had no idea the role they would be playing in today's vaccination efforts in South Florida.
"On January 1st, we sat down, we were watching the Rose Bowl parade and we were drinking the first coffee of the New Year and Russ and I actually started talking about the rollout of the vaccine to the over 65 group," said Quirk, a pediatric hematology and oncology nurse at Broward Health Medical Center.
"At my hospital, they had opened up vaccinations for the elderly population and really in a matter of hours, all those vaccine appointments were gone. And we realized very quickly that that particular population needed a lot of help because every location was doing it differently. Broward County was doing it differently than Miami. The hospitals were doing it differently than the state sites and so initially we really thought about our own parents and how best we could help them."
Quirk and Schwartz took matters into their own hands - creating a Facebook group that would include all the most up-to-date information on where and how to get vaccinated in South Florida.
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"There are two ways we've helped people throughout this whole process," said Schwartz, principal at Nova Blanch Forman Elementary. "One of them is actually securing appointments for them. The overwhelming majority of that group is the senior population, because we started with them from the beginning. That number is in the thousands."
By gathering their names, birthdays, phone numbers and other pertinent information Schwartz, Quirk and group of volunteers were able to secure appointments for thousands of elderly residents in South Florida.
With nearly 40 thousand members, their Facebook group has managed to successfully navigate the changes in vaccination criteria brought on by state officials and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention to give their followers accurate and specific information to assist in the appointment process.
"Every week we see a new group of people come in, especially the way that the age has been changing," said Quirk. "We constantly find ourselves, when a new group of people come in, resharing what we shared the week before and really stressing the information side of the group as well as the eligibility and the vaccines and where to go or how to make an appointment or pop up, because at this point, different things work for different people."
And they are not working alone on these efforts. Aside from Quirk and Schwartz there are about 100 volunteers dedicating hours to creating spreadsheets and cheat sheets on how to get vaccinated, while also monitoring and updating the group with the latest and most accurate information.
"Ultimately our goal is to help all of Florida get vaccinated. Beyond that, we have helped other Facebook groups start in other states. So we still welcome that kind of beyond Florida touch," said Quirk. "And then beyond that, we really do hope that in the coming weeks, months, that we're going to really be able to focus more on special projects, which means reaching out to the minority communities that are are having a more difficult time and really making sure that they know, just like we've offered help to everybody that's join the Facebook group, that we are available to help anyone that needs the help."