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After a stranger helped her dad score a vaccine, here’s how she’s paying it forward

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That moment marked the end of one journey and the beginning of another. Zayas had been desperately trying for three weeks to get a vaccine for his father, with no luck. Finally, she felt hopeful. And the 35-year-old small business owner wanted to pay it forward.

He now spends his nights flashing between various tabs open on the iPhone screen, running to help others sign up. His approach: Hispanic-speaking immigrants struggling to understand the system and get a place.

“It’s crazy,” Zayas says. “I don’t think it’s okay for someone to spend so much time and effort trying to get a vaccine. The people I help don’t have the luxury of staying home and watching … They’re even more vulnerable to the virus because they more exposed. They are the ones who make our food and clean the hospitals and things like that, and they don’t have time. “

Zayas and several people across the country trying to help communities of color get vaccinated told CNN that there is no magic strategy for success. They listen the fears of the people. The phones work. And sometimes the process still feels as weird and random as playing the lottery.

Here are some of the things they’ve learned:

You are sending frustrated calls from people who feel they have been excluded

Brenda Robinson has spent her career trying to help combat health disparities. As CEO and founder of Coalition of Black Nurses in Albany, New York, says he has been overworked since the success of the pandemic, saddened by the devastating toll he has seen the coronavirus take on his community.

But Robinson says that while she has been plagued by these problems, she was surprised by the vaccine’s release.

“The distribution is so chaotic, so disorganized, that we are constantly trying to catch up and try to get our people in those seats so they can get the vaccine,” he says.

Robinson says the people he talks to are increasingly desperate.

“I have so many people calling on my phone looking for the vaccine, crying and upset. … I’m very frustrated,” he says. “People say, ‘I know the vaccine is here, and I can’t get it, and I know it affects us the most.’

For weeks, Robinson and other volunteers have been going door-to-door in the underserved neighborhoods of Albany to help people register for the vaccine.

If people you know have access to the Internet, they are provided with a QR code so they can sign up for their phones. If they do not, the volunteers reject their information.

Robinson maintains a current list of names and continues to call on all community leaders who can think of trying to secure more places.

According to her, it has been disappointing to hear some officials point to skepticism about the vaccine in communities of color as a reason for the disproportionate figures.

“They use that as an excuse,” he says, “when there are so many ways access is the problem.”

While working to enroll more people in her community, Brenda Robinson of the Black Nurses Coalition has also been sharing her vaccine story.  She says she was skeptical at first, but did the research to make sure the vaccine would be safe.  Recently, he got his second shot.

The solution, she says, is to connect with people in the community to listen to their concerns and then do everything possible to help them sign up.

Robinson has driven people to vaccination appointments and helped organize emerging vaccination efforts.

He spoke to CNN the day before he planned to head to a meat packaging plant and ask workers concerned about vaccine safety on the ground.

His plan: to tell them all the research he has done to make sure the vaccine is safe and to ask everyone in the room if they had lost a loved one or if something has touched them Covid.

She knows that almost everyone will raise their hands. And he hopes he can help them get vaccines, despite all the obstacles.

He says the lack of high-speed internet puts his community at a disadvantage

While in the parking lot of the community center heading south of Dallas, Sherri Mixon looks at the long line of cars and thinks about all the layers of inequality that have been piling up in the pandemic.

A lot of people waiting in line are here to get food. Mixon, executive director of the TR Hoover Community Development Center, started a grocery service here automatically months ago to help the growing number of families in need in this mostly black community. But some of them line up for another reason as well, she says. They do not have a reliable internet service at home and have not been able to register for a vaccine.
Volunteers outside the Hoover Community Development Center work to distribute food and register people for Covid vaccines on a pipeline.

“Here’s a community of great disparity: lack of internet or lack of technology, and sometimes both,” he says.

“It was backwards,” she says. “It should have been more of a process of reflection to understand that Internet access and technology access, these communities had nothing to do with it. This is where the action plan should have been addressed.”

Mixon started registering people for vaccines after a person passed by and asked him for help. From there, she says, it becomes a big effort to register hundreds of people each week. And now, he says, they’ve gotten some funding from the city.

Sherri Mixon, executive director of the TR Hoover Community Development Center, has been trying to help more people in her South Dallas neighborhood sign up for vaccines.

“There are a lot of problems … but this line of registration, this makeshift line is our first defense for this virus, getting them to register, to get them vaccinated,” he says. “Dallas needs to be complete. And that’s the only way I know to do it.”

He sees language barriers being hindered

Peter Ng heard the common concern of many seniors in his Los Angeles community who were struggling to enroll in vaccines.

He says information on how to do it was only available in English and Spanish. This left out many immigrants who live in the Chinatown and speak other languages.

“They were very anxious,” says Ng, CEO of Chinatown Service Center. “In an hour or two, all the appointments were gone.”

The center began developing a waiting list. It wasn’t long before he had thousands of names.

Volunteers at the Chinatown Service Center in Los Angeles register seniors for Covid vaccines in February.

At first, it was difficult for the center, which also operates a community health clinic, to get enough vaccines to help anyone who wanted them.

And Ng fears that the name of the facility may have something to do with it, given growing anti-Asian sentiments.

“We’ve been here a long, long time. We’re as American as anyone,” he says. “We don’t have to be … careless, just because we carry the Chinese name or look Chinese.”

Recently, the situation has improved, says Ng. Center volunteers have been doing their best to sign up for more people. And officials have been providing an increasing number of vaccine doses. So now, says Ng, patience is key.

“We have to keep being prudent, protect ourselves and time will take care of things,” he says.

He learned Facebook group strategies and searched for sites every night

Late at night, Vivi Zayas sits in bed, picking up the phone, and her husband too. He is by her side, watching a basketball game. Participate in another type of competition: trying to register people for vaccines.

Sometimes he screams when he succeeds.

“Did you just dial?” Her husband asks.

Weeks ago, Zayas did his mission to learn all he could about the vaccine registration process. He joined Facebook groups for tips, such as what times of day different pharmacies post online appointments and how to fill out forms in advance so you’re ready to sign up for the second available sites.

“I started researching and then I was able to score one for my mom … Then my mom said to me,‘ Oh, can you find my church friend? “That’s how things escalated,” Zayas says.

His phone is now full of Spanish text from other people in the Philadelphia area asking for help.

Since then, Zayas estimates he has gotten dozens of appointments (many for people he has never met) and spends several hours trying them out every night. Sometimes, even with the tricks he knows, he doesn’t find any.

“It’s like playing the lottery … It’s very unfair,” Zayas says. “It’s hard enough for everyone and it’s even harder for the Hispanic community, for immigrants and for people where English isn’t their first language.”

Vivi Zayas says she looks for vaccine appointments at night and for about an hour in the morning when her daughters Lulu and Ruby have breakfast.  He wants them to see what they do and learn.  & quot;  I just hope they grow up and be compassionate & quot;  she says.

Making vaccine appointments is not Zayas ’daily job. She runs a theater cafe in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, which organizes parties and storytelling events for children. But he believes his experience with a business has helped him meet this challenge.

“You have to be tough. You have to go with the flow and drive, research and learn,” he says. “If you don’t know how to do something, you’ll find out and fix the problem.”

This is a problem that Zayas hopes he won’t have to solve for a long time. But whenever people in her community need help getting vaccines, she is determined to keep looking.

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