Westfield Teen’s New Group Finds Coronavirus Vaccines For Seniors

WESTFIELD, NJ — In one of the cruel ironies of the coronavirus pandemic, the demographic that’s most vulnerable to the virus — the elderly — don’t always have the skills or technology to jockey various websites to find a vaccine appointment. Some have relied on children or grandchildren to help, and now, other are able to get help from volunteers.

Recently, Taylor Addis, a junior at Westfield High School, started a group called Gen2Gen Helpers to help get covid-19 vaccine appointments for their elders. She started the group with her aunt, Michelle Cisneros of Mountainside.

After word got around about the young vax-unteers, requests ballooned.

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“We currently have close to 200 seniors requesting our assistance,” Addis reported Saturday afternoon, saying that among them is a person who’s 98 years old.

“One senior cried tears of joy when we notified her about her appointment,” said Cisneros.

Cisneros said that the group started among a few of their family members, then grew quickly.

“It has been a family event,” she said, “with Taylor (junior at WHS) and Diana Rios (Springfield resident and freshman at Seton Hall) doing a lot of the heavy lifting, coordinating all of the requests, volunteers and email messages. It’s been so heartwarming to receive such an outpouring of support.”

“So far,” Addis said on Saturday, “we have 35 teens and adults [volunteering] mainly from local towns — Westfield, Springfield and Mountainside — but from other counties as well. Volunteers are working tirelessly at all hours trying to schedule an online appointment while others are making phone calls and offering transportation assistance.”

Addis said that besides seniors from Union County, her group has gotten requests from Essex, Morris, Middlesex, Monmouth, Bergen, Mercer and Ocean counties and even one from Cape May — two hours away, at the southern tip of the state.

(Patch continually updates the state’s list of public vaccine sites for each county, and certain pharmacies and health networks have set up their own. Here is the Patch list for Union County, and here is one for Essex County.)

National trend

Addis and the other volunteers aren’t the only young people trying to help seniors get their shots. Last week, the lifestyle website PureWow wrote about “millenni-agents” helping older relatives get vaccines across the country.

The story cited a “Millenni-Agent” named Mary from Short Hills, N.J., who helped her parents get appointments by logging in early each morning. Mary said, “The registration was the most confusing and overwhelming part for them … she was getting text confirmations and my dad wasn’t. It required a lot of hand-holding.”

Who’s eligible

Right now, New Jersey is vaccinating residents in the first two eligible categories, including health care workers, people over 65, and those 16 and over with certain chronic health conditions.

But there have been delays for various reasons, including, most recently, due to the weather in several areas.

Cisneros said, “Giving back is a great way to fill your cup especially after so much disappointment during the pandemic. It’s been great to see the team work their magic and get the job done.”

She added, “This week has been even harder to schedule appointments because of the snow and delay in vaccine shipments, causing cancellations and rescheduling, but we hope spots will open up over the next week or so.”

On Friday, Westfield Mayor Shelley Brindle reported in her weekly update that New Jersey has fully vaccinated 4.9 percent of the population, and that 12.4 percent of our population has received one dose.

State officials have said the goal is to vaccinate 70 percent of the adult population by the spring.

In Union County, 9.6 percent of the population has received their first dose of vaccine and 3.9 percent has received their second dose.

Thus, many people are still waiting. And when new spots have suddenly become available, they’re gobbled up quickly, even on a Sunday.

As the vaccine rollout continues, people are still succumbing to the virus. As of Monday morning, more than 500,000 Americans had died of the virus. Just a month ago, the number was 400,000.

How to get help from Gen2Gen, or volunteer

Here is the link to request assistance from Gen2Gen Helpers if you’re in the area and eligible for a vaccine: Click here

Here is the link to volunteer with the group: Click here

Other information

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy was expected to give an update on the vaccines and virus plan Monday. Read more here.
The latest Patch list of vaccination sites in Union County is here.
Union County said they were changing their hours at their main coronavirus testing site this week. Read more here.

This story is part of Patch’s Headlining Hope series, which profiles local nonprofits and charitable organizations in need of volunteers and resources. If you know of a local organization that should be profiled, contact Caren.lissner@patch.com.

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