Massachusetts

Volunteers Helping Mass. Seniors Sign Up for COVID-19 Vaccinations

A new website, called "MA Covid Vaccination Help," has more than 100 volunteers to help people book coronavirus vaccine appointments in Massachusetts

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Volunteers are working to help older Massachusetts residents sign up for their coronavirus vaccines.

It started out with a local moms group from Cambridge and Somerville. Those are the people with whom Diana Rastegayeva began sharing her "tips and tricks" for navigating the state's vaccine website — lessons learned when the 32-year-old mother of two, home on maternity leave, helped her grandfather and his friends find appointments.

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"And that grew and grew until it was over 200 people, and until I was booking people I didn't know," Rastegayeva said.

The "MA Covid Vaccination Help" website utilizes more than 100 volunteers with hundreds more being trained. Nearly 800 people have been booked, including Libby Gallaher.

"My fingers, at 73, just didn't type fast enough," she said of why she used the website.

After spending hours on her computer trying to book an appointment, Gallaher was able to get vaccinated within days of getting connected with a volunteer.

"I know what they're doing, which is something that I can't do, which is to be a fast clicker," she said.

Volunteers use basic browser add-ons like Autofill.

Website volunteer Payal Salsburg says there's nothing secret or proprietary about the website. Salsburg is a criminal defense attorney by day — but by night, "I was awake pretty much the entire night booking people."

Salsburg is one of the so-called "COVID angels" — passionate about volunteering.

Terri Ackerman says she and her husband Steve spent almost the entire day on the computer, unsuccessfully trying to book an appointment on the state website. They were thrilled when they were vaccinated days after contacting the help site.

"By 3 o'clock in the afternoon, I had gotten a call from a volunteer," Steve Ackerman said. "And by 4:30 p.m., I have a spot at Gillette for that Wednesday."

Terri Ackerman is now one of the volunteers.

The most common reaction among users, according to Rastegayeva, is "a lot of tears."

The state advises against using unauthorized websites. Rastegayeva agrees it's risky to give out personal information and wishes the service wasn't necessary.

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