A few weeks ago, Dava Schub, CEO of the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center, had an idea that seemed out of reach. There was a need in the elder community for assistance with signing-up for COVID vaccinations, but the center lacked the staffing due to COVID layoffs.
“I was talking to friends whose parents were struggling to get vaccination appointments,” Schub said. “Even for the most computer-savvy person, this is a really cumbersome and complex process. People blame themselves for not being able to get the vaccine, when the reality is that there aren’t enough vaccines available for those who are prioritized to get them.”
After an email to Adena Kirstein, executive director of GW Hillel, Schub had a partner. Together they launched the “Vaccine Sign-Up Support Project,” to match older adults with college-aged students who can help them navigate the vaccination sign-up process.
“This is still just a startup, so we’re kind of building the plan as we’re flying it,” Kirstein said. “Our original plan was to build the volunteer base first, because we weren’t sure how many students were going to respond. In our initial outreach, we received about 20 volunteers.”
That outreach was on Jan. 14. On Jan. 20, Schub sent an email to the Edlavitch JCC’s network. Within 24 hours, she had received 200 responses from people seeking assistance with COVID vaccine registration.
“I want to be expansive in our reach, because I think there’s more folks who want to volunteer, and there’s definitely more need in the community of older adults beyond the first 200,” Schub said.
The demand in the District for COVID vaccine is higher than the supply the city is receiving from the federal government. The 740 appointments the city made available on Jan. 22 were filled by the 25th. More appointments will be released on Jan. 28 for those 65 and older, according to the D.C. government.
“I hope that through this process the older adults, who have given so much to so many in their lives, feel like someone’s got their back, so that it feels a little bit less cumbersome, a little bit less scary, a little bit less isolating, and a little bit less unknown,” Schub said.
The 20 volunteers had their first virtual training session on Jan. 18. They received information about the registration process and how to assist the older adults they are paired with.
“We’re trying to tell volunteers to be as flexible as possible right now. Their first step will be to call the senior and assess what the need is,” Kirstein said. “We know that some seniors obviously can get online easily and fill out all the information, and others need more help doing that. We’re really trying to meet the client where they are.
Emily Baum, a senior at George Washington University, is a volunteer for the “Vaccine Sign-up Support Project.”
“Throughout the pandemic, I’ve felt helpless, especially when it comes to supporting those most in danger, and the vaccine project has provided a way for students like me to tangibly help those around us,” Baum said.
Schub expects the volunteers to be paired with older adults this week.
“If we can nail it in the pilot phase of this project, I think the need will only continue to grow as the vaccine rolls out,” she said. “EDCJCC would love to continue to be expansive about how we can be of service in the community in this incredible moment of need.”
Vaccine Registration Information
For information about COVID vaccine registration:
Washington, D.C. Vaccination Registration
Montgomery County COVID-19 Information Portal
City of Alexandria COVID Vaccine Resources
Arlington COVID-19 Response