Robin Davis was thrilled to learn that Wisconsin deemed her family eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations starting March 1. That offered hope that she and her children could soon safely venture outside their Milwaukee home.
For the past year, the 56-year-old has mostly hunkered down with her son, 26, and daughter, 23 — both of whom are on the autism spectrum.
That has proved lonely and difficult, Davis said, but ultimately worthwhile. Her husband of 30-plus years died of pneumonia in 2019, and she fears catching COVID-19. She remains the legal guardian of her adult children, responsible for medical and financial decisions.
Davis has her own physical disabilities, and the family participates in IRIS, Wisconsin’s self-directed program for frail elders and adults with disabilities. That’s why all three qualified to receive vaccinations this month.
But Davis wasn’t sure how to book an appointment. The signup websites she found failed to demystify the process.
She joined the group and posted her story. That connected her with group founder Bob Orech, who said he made it his “personal mission” to find vaccines for the Davis family. Orech linked her to a Walgreens pharmacist he met through the group. Davis and both children received their first shots the next day.
“I think that's one of the stories I'm most proud about,” said Orech, 47, a retail regional manager in Germantown, Wisconsin.
The fast-growing Facebook group has helped many Wisconsinites navigate the state’s COVID-19 vaccine bureaucracy. Wisconsin is among the nation’s leaders in distributing innoculations to those who want them, but demand still outpaces supply, and some eligible residents have still struggled to find appointments.
The Facebook group is among dozens popping up nationwide in which members share insights for booking vaccinations. Some, like Orech, even schedule appointments for others. They are known as “angels.”
Orech started the group in late February after members of a Chicago Facebook group helped him find appointments for his parents in suburban Chicago. If that approach worked in Chicago, he figured, why not Wisconsin? As of Thursday afternoon, about 2,700 people had joined the Milwaukee group.
Wisconsin has administered more than 1.8 million vaccines as of Thursday. About one in five Wisconsinites has received at least one vaccine dose, and more than one in 10 is fully vaccinated, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Wisconsin Watch and WPR spoke to eight residents who received vaccines. Here are their insights.