The “VaccineAngels” group is spreading its wings across Connecticut and New York, so to speak.
Since it started on Feb. 1, the “New York / Connecticut Vaccine Hunters and Angels” Facebook page has gained over 10,000 members.
“I only expect that to double or triple in the next two or three weeks,” Executive Director Joel Leyden said.
Members of the group consist of both eligible vaccine seekers who are looking to find an appointment for themselves or a loved one and those who are not eligible but are looking to find an excess dose that would otherwise be thrown out.
Leyden credits the growth of the page to a desperate need for accurate information on securing a vaccine, as well as the need for a support group. Many people are finding themselves unable to make an appointment despite being eligible to receive the vaccine or that they have to wait several months to do so.
Leyden estimates the group's efforts have actually reached over 70,000 people due to the family and friends of the group members.
"When you see that joy [of the people you've helped], that's when you know all the hours you've been putting into this as a "Vaccine Angel" [are worth it], Leyden said.
Leyden also credits the group’s growth to what he considers to be a failure by federal and state governments to create vaccine websites that are easy to understand and access. Leyden claims the government pages were not equipped to handle the demand of those wanting the vaccine.
“People are desperate and fearful. I would say each person is coming in for one purpose only: ‘Where can I find the vaccine?’” Leyden said.
In order to make the Facebook pages easier to find, Leyden bought several domain names like vaccineangel.com, connecticutvaccinehunters.com, newyorkvaccinehunters.com and massachusettsvaccineangels.com that redirect users to their respective groups.
To make sure those in the group are able to receive answers in a timely matter, Leyden has several volunteer moderators, including himself, watching over the page at all hours of the day and engaging with the members. They assist members by getting on the phone with them when they try and schedule an appointment or by even going to their house to provide assistance with scheduling if needed.
Leyden urges those who are medical doctors, nurses, PA, EMTs, psychologists, and social workers to join the VaccineAngel team as volunteer moderators. Those interested can contact him on his Facebook account.
“We need people who not only have the information and links but are able to engage [people] in a proper, warm, friendly, and professional approach where they are able to lower the level of anxiety,” Leyden said.
The group is also seeking major donations and grants to cover its expenses and expand its outreach. The group has also begun contacting lawmakers asking them to pass a bill that would protect excess vaccines from being destroyed.