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Volunteer Vaccine Navigators Are Helping Seniors through the Scheduling Maze

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The following article was originally republished March 5, 2021 through a collaboration with KPCC and LAist.

Story by Carla Javier

It's one thing to be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine and another thing entirely to navigate the system and acquire it.

The barriers to access are plenty: language and translation hurdles, email and cell phone availability, technology proficiency, the time to keeping checking various avenues, transportation, and supply limitations. To help, some Southern Californians have stepped in and stepped up to guide friends, family and strangers through the medical maze.

A sign on a lamppost in a residential area advertises how and where Pasadena residents can get vaccinated.
Volunteer Candice Kim put up a sign near her home offering to help people struggling to navigate the vaccine appointment booking systems. | Courtesy of Candice Kim via LAist

Pasadena resident Candice Kim took up the effort when her parents — who are seniors — became eligible for the vaccine.

She said she got involved because they aren't too tech savvy. She said that even for her, it took a while to figure out. But the persistent checking paid off — she was able to book appointments.

And then she thought, "Well, they live in a senior apartment building with a lot of people just like them. Why don't I continue helping people until I've run out of seniors to help?"

And that's how Kim became a project director by day and a volunteer vaccine navigator by night.

A face masked, bespectacled woman takes a selfie in her car, which contains materials to make cloth face masks.
In addition to helping eligible people navigate the vaccine appointment booking system, Candice Kim is also part of a group sewing and delivering masks. | Courtesy of Candice Kim

She put up a sign on her street and started connecting eligible individuals in her neighborhood with appointments. She's also looking out for people in other neighborhoods. When Kim finds appointments in other parts of L.A., she sends the information to organizations and volunteers like her serving those communities.

I asked her to share her tips for finding appointments for eligible people who have struggled to secure appointments in Los Angeles. Here's what she shared:

► Start with the state's booking system, MyTurn, which includes appointments at the Cal State L.A. mass vaccination site run by the state and federal government. MyTurn also has a hotline specifically for those who might not have an email address or a smartphone: 1-833-422-4255.

► The City of Los Angeles also runs vaccination sites, which are managed through a platform called Carbon Health.

► The Los Angeles County vaccine portal also has links to more vaccine sites - including its own distribution sites', health clinics', and pharmacies' booking platforms.

► If you can, check at different points in the day. Big batches of appointments can get released late at night, in the middle of the workday, or anywhere in-between. And sometimes, people cancel.

► When you see appointments in other communities where you don't live, see if there's someone in that community you can tell about that appointment. "Try to think about if you're going to a community that has almost no resources," Kim said. And ask yourself, 'Are you taking away resources from that community?"

► If you're part of a community that has had high COVID rates but low vaccination rates, check in with your local elected officials, who may have information about mobile vaccination clinics in your area.

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