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Flustered vaccine seekers turn to Kendra's Covid Coaches to navigate appointment process

Austin American-Statesman logo Austin American-Statesman 3/5/2021 Sabrina LeBoeuf, Austin American-Statesman

After a year filled with fear of the coronavirus reaching her 83-year-old father, Kendra Wright felt a sense of hope.

In early January, Wright secured a COVID-19 vaccination appointment for her dad, who resides in assisted living. With that first shot, she took a breath of relief. Then she wanted to help others in Central Texas do the same.

Today, Wright has banded together more than 50 volunteers, dubbed Kendra’s Covid Coaches, to help those medically vulnerable with an often frustrating technical process.

Wright, who lives in Bee Cave, started by helping schedule vaccine appointments online for a few neighbors. With each one, more folks felt Wright’s same relief and wanted to volunteer their time to help spread that same feeling.

“Once I felt that feeling of getting him vaccinated, I thought, ‘I want everyone to feel this weight lifted,’” Wright said.

The volunteer group works on getting the community vaccinated primarily by coaching people through the online registration process. People needing coaching or assistance can sign up for one of the group's WhatsApp messaging groups to receive alerts on where to look for vaccines and troubleshooting guidance.

A comprehensive spreadsheet with a newsletter sign-up, facts on various vaccine registration sites and contact forms, are all available in English and Spanish.

Coaches also help schedule appointments for those who are not technologically savvy, have a day job that limits computer access, or experience language barriers. Within the first 10 days of operation, they booked more than 1,000 appointments. So far, the number has grown to more than 2,000 bookings, and they are continuing to schedule more than 100 appointments a day. 

“We're strangers who are working together to accomplish this huge goal,” Head Coach Lydia Rudy Sullivan said. “It's honestly the most rewarding thing I've ever done." 

Kendra’s Covid Coaches work around the clock to help Central Texas residents find vaccine appointments. No insider secrets or back doors allow them to get appointments — just sheer dedication drives them to get the job done. 

When Rudy Sullivan isn’t working her day job, she’s spending up to six hours each day organizing the volunteers and assigning tasks.

Volunteers like Erin Puckett McClure work 60 hours a week, answering phone calls, responding to WhatsApp messages and booking appointments. As a stay-at-home mom, she spends most of her time at home, but on the off-chance that she’s out running an errand, she brings a laptop and turns her phone into a Wi-fi hot spot to search for vaccine appointments in her spare time. She even tried booking appointments while a real estate agent was showing her a house. 

a woman sitting in front of a laptop: Kendra Wright, founder of Kendra's Covid Coaches, works to make the hectic vaccine registration process smoother for Central Texans. © Photo by Laura Jenkins Kendra Wright, founder of Kendra's Covid Coaches, works to make the hectic vaccine registration process smoother for Central Texans.

Chris Albrecht, Wright’s neighbor, became a volunteer after trying to book a vaccine appointment for her mother. She had put her mother’s name on six different waitlists before Albrecht reached out to Wright for guidance. Since then, Albrecht has spent several hours each day talking with community members on the phone, listening to their stories and helping them get their loved ones vaccinated.  

“It can be overwhelming; I'm tired,” Albrecht said. “But once you get that appointment, you just you can't stop. It's addicting. Next thing you know, it's one o'clock in the morning, and you're like, ‘I've got to get some sleep.’ ” 

Beyond the usual coaching duties, some coaches work with outreach and finding organizations they believe could benefit from vaccine registration assistance. Before vaccines were made available for teachers, the coaches worked to find health care workers in schools or teachers that qualify for group 1B to get vaccinated.

Those in the 1B group include people 65 and older or people 16 and older with a health condition that increases the risk of having a severe COVID‑19 illness.

“I especially worry about the teachers because they have to be teaching all day,” Puckett McClure said. “They are incapable of pressing refresh constantly because they are working all day.” 

Now that Texas has opened vaccines for teachers, Kendra’s Covid Coaches has a teacher-specific form for educators to sign up for vaccine scheduling assistance.  

Folks in need of vaccine registration assistance or those who would like to volunteer with Kendra’s Covid Coaches can reach out to covidcoaches21@gmail.com. Albrecht said those who need help should first try out the WhatsApp coaching groups before asking for a personal coach to schedule an appointment for them.   

“We don't want to become the waitlist,” Albrecht said. “If they join our WhatsApp groups, and they try to get appointments themselves through our coaching, that's what is helpful. Because otherwise, if they're just sending us their information, our list is going to get just as backed up as an (Austin Public Health) list or a (Family Hospitals System) waitlist.”

How to connect with Kendra's Covid Coaches

Send an email to covidcoaches21@gmail.com.

You will receive an automated response with the complete resource spreadsheet.

From there, the resource sheet will guide you through instructions on DIY vaccine appointment booking or assisted booking. 

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Flustered vaccine seekers turn to Kendra's Covid Coaches to navigate appointment process

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