Vaccine Angels

by Rick Boettger…

My wife Cynthia, who is 76 years old, has finally received her first COVID vaccine shot last Saturday morning at Winn Dixie. Everything went perfectly on time, and she only felt a little light-headed afterward—as our personal Vaccine Angel said, “Giddy from the excitement.”

What is a Vaccine Angel? It is the divine intervention of friends to be able to beat the foolishly rigged system we have suffered here in the Keys in order to get our shots. I explained the details of our problems a few weeks ago here in the Blue Paper: Vaccination Abuse. This follow-up is a remarkably uplifting story of our fellow citizens helping each other out to beat our degenerate governmental system.

In brief, I begged some friends to help me out in signing up Cynthia for her shots. It worked to get good people working hard for us, and it paid off with her getting an appointment on Thursday February 25 for her shot on the 27th. In the dark misery of this process, I saw the bright light of a network of people volunteering to help especially elderly people without internet access to get their desperately needed appointments. These groups of what are generally called “Vaccine Hunters” are popping up all over the country, including our own here in the Keys.

The prime Angel who helped us is Patricia Brown. She had to bring her husband to West Palm Beach for his own shot. She then joined a Facebook group called “South Florida Covid 19 Vaccine Info.” My friend Angie Cortinas met Patricia when Angie joined right before the holidays last December. The group started with people just sharing information: what centers were open, how to jump hurdles. There is a group like this in Maryland, and another in Alabama, which was featured on ’60 Minutes’ last Sunday as “Vaccine Hunters.” I expect they are popping up all over. One fellow in Maryland helped 30 seniors get appointments in only 5 days of work.

I call them my “Vaccine Angels,” but one local non-Facebook group of Cynthia’s non-profit friends calls themselves “Vaccine Warriors”–maybe, as tough gals, not wanting to put on their pink wings for this. Like Patricia, these Angels/Warriors/Hunters have first broken through the system for themselves, but instead of sleeping in as they have earned the right to do, have continued to get up at 7  a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to watch the Publix vaccine website, and others as well.

For example, Patricia got our Winn Dixie slot when their website opened at midnight. After Cynthia really did get her shot, when I was thanking Patricia for that, I greedily asked her if she could help my old friend and fellow government watchdog Larry Murray and his wife get their shots. Patricia is fast. She was up at 7 a.m. for the latest Publix offering, and scored shots for both Larry and Marianne on Thursday. I got his grateful call this morning, and am wondering how on earth one can possibly thank these Angels well enough.

I am rushing this column for publication, because it is important that seniors who are not tech savvy be guided towards this kind of possibly life-saving work. These people are an incredible blessing. Angie and Patricia,  for example, are too young to be getting the vaccine anytime soon. But they represent an angel or warrior group that simply feels bad for older people who just aren’t as good as we need to be to navigate the terrible systems our government has set up to distribute the lifesaving vaccines. Angie has been signing up her New York family members, eleven in all. Our local hero Patricia had 16 at last count, probably many more by the time you read this.

One governmental bright light locally was vaccinating 200 senior Bahama Village residents last Saturday in the Frederick Douglass building. They kept it a secret from honkies like Larry and me who would have knocked over elderly Black women to get to the front of the line ourselves. If you Google “vaccine hunters” you will find an article about “hunters” in Berkeley who work to crash such efforts to target underserved minority communities without the internet access that is needed to sign up in areas like, for example, the Florida Keys.

If you or someone you know still needs a shot, stop reading now, and get to finding your own local Angel. Below is the happy story of exactly what it was like for my Cynthia, and a bunch of whining about how I desperately suffered trying to help her out.

In Cynthia’s case, it was a couple who are dear friends, the Lapps, who had a friend Phyllis who knew about Patricia. Somehow Patricia scored a real fast appointment at our local Winn Dixie in its plaza on North Roosevelt. Cynthia got the magic email from our friends on Wednesday that she had her convenient local appointment at an easy time, 10:40 on the very next Saturday, only three days from the email.

I dropped Cynthia off at the door, parked the car, and went in and bought $226 of groceries and wine while Cynthia used her 15-minute-early arrival to fill out forms. She said she got her shot at exactly 10:40 AM, and then she sat there feeling a little light headed for 15 minutes while I finished shopping.

For both of us, oddly, even more so for me, the last six weeks have been the hardest for me in our entire 15-year marriage. Because I, like a lot of other husbands, I bet, knew it was MY JOB to save my love’s life by getting her a simple life-saving shot. Big ol’ superhero moi, who says he would happily run into a burning building to try to save my Cynthia, was haplessly, weakly, incompetently striking out in all directions.

Of course I was signing up for everything, the state/county, Publix, stopping by Winn Dixie but not getting onto the website. Begging the VA to give Cynthia my shot instead of me. Repeatedly calling our wonderful doctors, being on their lists, but being told they simply were not getting any vaccine to administer to anyone but their own staff (thank goodness for that, at least). My most extreme move was going to Rural Health, also on N. Roosevelt, and offering to give them $10,000 to fly up North somewhere and pick up shots for everyone on their less-well-known list, if it was the cold-weather road closures holding up their shipments.

The vaccine sign-up system, with its systematic torture on the every-minute refreshing Publix website meaning I got shot down between 43 and 75 times a day two or three days per week, had become a greater threat to my personal health than COVID itself: my blood pressure, usually 133/75, was 165/95 on my regular doctor appointment with Dr Mlkvy at the local VA on the day before Cynthia’s life-saving call from Mary Ellen. Those kinds of numbers killed my Mom.

It hurt to find out that people like myself who could afford boutique doctors had been richly rewarded in Miami, in the Pinecrest area. They served their richest patients until someone blew the whistle, and that put the kibosh on it all, including us down here, apparently.

But all’s well that ends well, so if you haven’t already, get on it, either as an Angel yourself, or helping some daft old duffer find their own Angel.  If I did it, you all can too.


Rick Boettger

Rick Boettger had a Top Secret security clearance in the Army and studied nuclear chemistry at MIT and law at Yale before getting a PhD in business at Berkeley. He earned tenure as a business professor at TCU in Fort Worth before going to Moscow as a Fulbright Professor, writing a book on the economy, hosting a semi-national talk radio show, and retiring to Key West in 1996 at the age of 48. Since then he has worked part-time as a tax and financial advisor, and has been doing investigative journalism since he began at the Blue Paper in 2007​. He is very happily married to his superb copy-editor Cynthia Edwards, the former long-time PIO for the Key West Police Department.

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One thought on “Vaccine Angels

  1. Below is a comment from Ken S. and my answer:
    “Thank you for this fine article. Somehow I didn’t get your previous article referenced in this article. Great success story. I too have been unsuccess in obtaining an appointment for a shot. However I am a very patient person and just staying home unless absolutely necessary, ie, Winn Dixie or Home Depot to work on a home project. I’m 71 and live on Little Torch Key.
    “The main purpose of this communique is two observations. The first, I noted Monday AM while pursuing info on the Winn Dixie site. I found the list of Florida counties and the current ‘appointment/supply’ rate for each county. I noted Miami-Dade at that time 20-something, Broward was a bit higher at 30-something, while Monroe was ‘fully booked’. Where is the leadership to simply bring some of those south FL vaccines south a hundred miles? Where is the newly elected officials, ie, county commissioners, state legislators, state senators, or God forbid Desantis actually do something positive to help? On the second point, the VA is administering vaccine, as you mentioned in the article. I don’t qualify for it I am advised; although I am a qualified US military veteran having fully served 6 years in the Florida National Guard and of course have my DD 214 in my wallet for other benefits when available. So where’s our federal politicians fixing this problem?
    “Ok, there I’ve spouted and feel a bit better now that I’ve vented. I will just continue to go online or go to another county. My brother, sister and their spouses in St. Johns and Flagler counties, (small also like Monroe) have all received both shots. We have very poor representation here is Monroe I submit. Kindest regards to you and the Blue Paper family.”
    My response:
    Ken, I completely agree with your complaints, and then some. For the Publix website, they originally posted the number of shots available in each county. But when they became embarrassed by, e.g, Palm Beach getting 7,953 while Monroe got 322, they hid the disparity by changing it to percentages left for each county–instead of trying to establish equity based by a public calculation of how the allocations were made.
    But I have tried to make this column a celebration of what has worked, the all-volunteer corps of Vaccine Angels. I have had to report so much criticism these last 16 years, it warms my soul to be able to celebrate our community.

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