COVID Vaccine Info Facebook page shuts down

Written by on March 16, 2021

COVID Vaccine Info Facebook page shuts down

By Dave Heller

March 16, 2021

Photo| Joerg Koch/AP

Back in mid-January, when COVID vaccines were even more scarce than they are now, Lower Nazareth Township resident Rene Shepherd started a Facebook page to help mostly older, less computer savvy folks get vaccine appointments.

According to Vicky Kistler, director of the Allentown Health Bureau, she has helped thousands to get shots.

Regrettably, Rene closed down the page on March 15.

Listen to the story.

Dave Heller

“Rene, thanks for joining us on WLVR’s “All Things Considered.”

Rene Shepherd

“Thanks, Dave. Thanks for having me.”

Heller

“Renee, your mom was among that cohort of mostly older, less computer savvy and that’s part of why you launched this Facebook group.” 

Shepherd

“Absolutely. So, she’s 87, super active and lives independently. But when it comes to accessing healthcare via computers, she’s completely left out. I had a kind of step in with my sister and help her get the appointment needed to get her vaccination.” 

Heller

“And so that began, in January, the ‘Lehigh Valley Covid Vaccine info’ page.”

Shepherd

“It was 10:30 at night, on a Thursday night, I sat down and said, ‘You know, I think I can do this.’” 

Heller

“What kind of response did you get initially?”

Shepherd

“In the first week, we were up around 700 members and I kind of got a little nervous because it was growing really quick. Within the first couple of days, I enlisted one of my girlfriends. And then I reached out to a couple of neighbors, as well, and got them into this little initiative. So, we had five people basically working pretty much around the clock.” 

Heller

“At the onset, you couldn’t have envisioned all the complications that have now compelled you to close that site.”

Shepherd

“No. What could go wrong? We were trying to help people and, you know, just aggregating the information, you know, putting the time into source the contacts and the different clinics and the links and the phone numbers and kind of verifying all of that to  make sure we had good information and put it all in one place so that these people could find it easily.” 

Heller

“But everybody wanted to find that information easily, including those who didn’t necessarily fit that demographic of older or less computer savvy or, frankly, those who wanted to profit from it.” 

Shepherd

“Anybody can represent themselves however they want. So, people even trying to join the group, we would find people, international people, who were noted scammers. 

“But then we saw other people taking advantage of a desperate situation. When you put thousands of desperate seniors into a group and have them raise their hand and say, ’I really need help and I’ll do anything,’ people who want to take advantage of them just have a big pool of sitting ducks.”

Heller

“Some apparently booked multiple appointments only to then not need them, leaving everyone in the lurch. Let’s listen to Allentown Health Bureau Director Vicky Kistler.”

Vicky Kistler

“Recently, we had one day in particular when we had a large number of no-shows at the end of the day, and that creates mass havoc. So, we are asking people who have registered on multiple sites to please cancel your appointment on all of those sites so it gives someone else a chance to book that appointment slot.” 

Shepherd

“This was the biggest eye opener for me: that we may be doing more harm than good.” 

Heller

“Did you also consult with local health officials to see if, on balance, this was perhaps doing more harm than good?” 

Shepherd

“Yes, we actually had good relationships with the local providers and found that who were showing up at the clinics were not the people that we were hoping to most serve.

“And you know, I’m not blaming the people in the Lehigh Valley. What I am saying is that the system has flaws and, without any guardrails up for accountability and for people having to verify their health situation or their eligibility, that became a game changer.” 

Heller

“It’s quite likely that it’s not realistic to think that those guardrails can go up about this aspect of health equity in time to vaccinate those in need. 

“What would you now advise this specific group, older seniors who are not necessarily tech savvy?” 

Shepherd

“We really need, as a state, as a city, as a country, to address that inequity in access to health care. 

“So for now, reach out to friends, reach out to neighbors, reach out to your family members who could possibly help you navigate this really high tech situation to schedule.”

Heller

“Thank you so much for joining us on WLVR’s ‘All Things Considered.’”

Shepherd

“Thanks, Dave. Thanks for having me.”

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