MILWAUKEE — A Germantown man says he's helping hundreds of people in Wisconsin sign up to get a COVID-19 vaccine with his Facebook group.
Bob Orech says he was trying to get his parents signed up for their vaccines in Chicago, and he says that's when he came across the Facebook group, "Chicago Vaccine Angels." He says he looked at the resources and tips posted there and was able to get his parents an appointment.
So he decided to start something like it in Wisconsin, called "Milwaukee & WI Area Vaccine Hunters." As of Tuesday night, it had more than 400 members. He said he thinks he has helped about 200 people get scheduled or get a dose in the four days since he launched it.
"The biggest struggle obviously is finding vaccines that are available, being quick enough to sign up for it," Orech said.
Orech and other members post resources, tips and updates from local health departments, retail pharmacies, local pharmacies, health systems and clinics. So far he says he has mostly helped elderly people and teachers. He also says he's been able to help some people score a vaccine so it wouldn't expire.
TMJ4 spoke to three people in the group, and they say it has helped them.
Jessica Busalacchi posted, "Because of this page I was able to schedule both of my doses! Get my first one this Friday."
"Both my wife and my brother are essential workers who qualify for the vaccine and have been struggling to find when/where they could get the shot," Erik Conradson said. "Bob's group has great info and people contributing almost real-time info that helped get us pointed in the right direction and scheduled."
"Getting these text messages, someone wanted to pay me cash to buy me a beer," Orech said. "And it’s like, no just pay it forward, post here, share this page."
State health officials say Wisconsin's vaccine registry should go live online later in the week. They say part of the hold-up is trying to make sure they can integrate local health department registries with the state's.
During the state media call Tuesday afternoon, TMJ4 News asked DHS Deputy Health Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk what her thoughts were about grassroots groups helping people get appointments for vaccines.
"I think every way we can help people connect to vaccine appointments is a great opportunity," Willems Van Dijk said. "And so as long as grassroots groups are using credible information to help people get to credible sites, I think that's an excellent use of resources. I know I saw a story about a group of teachers who were helping their friends and neighbors navigate the various registration sites and the various opportunities to get vaccines. And I think that's just the way neighbors help neighbors in our state, and really appreciate that."
Orech says if you are struggling with trying to sign up, ask for help.
"Be patient," Orech said. "It is frustrating, and that’s OK. You're supposed to be frustrated because this isn’t an easy process, and no one’s had the right way to roll it out. Everyone is trying to do their best."