‘Vaccine hunter:’ Staunton woman assists others in obtaining COVID-19 vaccine appointments
By Rebecca J. Barnabi
For Augusta Free Press
“It started with my dad is 83 and lives in northern Virginia. My big priority even above getting myself vaccinated was getting him vaccinated,” said Hirw, who lives in Staunton.
Her search began in mid-January when she would spend one or two hours each day for six weeks investigating online where her dad could get scheduled for his COVID-19 vaccine.
“That kind of started my whole interest in the process,” Hirw said.
As a Rockingham County employee, Hirw received her first vaccine in mid-February. She is a Reading Specialist at Cub Run Elementary School, and is in her 21st year as a teacher.
“Ironically, I didn’t have to go hunting for it for myself. It kind of came to me,” Hirw said.
Hirw’s father was told by his doctor that he would be called when his doctor’s office had the vaccine or he would be able to go to a local CVS.
“I don’t necessarily blame these places, because I feel like we’re all trying to figure this out as we go,” Hirw said.
While looking for a way for her dad to get vaccinated, Hirw said she realized a clear set of directions did not exist to follow.
Other challenges included availability of the vaccine where he lives in Fairfax County. She managed to get him into the county’s data base in mid-January, but on the same day other 40,000 residents also registered.
“In Fairfax County, they’re not even scheduling those appointments yet,” Hirw said.
She did not want her dad to wait any longer than he already had to wait.
So, she scheduled him an appointment to come to Staunton and get the vaccine at Martin’s.
But, then she found a Harris Teeter 30 minutes away from where he lives, and he got his vaccine two weeks ago. Afterward, he received a message from Fairfax County to schedule an appointment.
On Monday, Hirw assisted the 11th individual in finding a location to get vaccinated. She has even helped someone who was trying to find a way for their mother to get the vaccine.
“It’s become a little fun obsession,” Hirw said.
The obsession continued after getting her dad scheduled, according to Hirw, from “just knowing what a huge frustration it had been for me.” Getting her dad an appointment took six weeks, and she wants to help others obtain appointments.
“I’m also a huge advocate for the vaccine in general, and, the more who can get, it the better,” Hirw said.
Hirw said that the country’s economy needs to reopen and students need to return to in-person learning, and the vaccine can help make both happen.
“Those things I don’t feel can happen safely until we have a lot of people vaccinated,” Hirw said.
Last year, as a teacher, Hirw said that she “felt powerless” because of the pandemic, and helping others get vaccinated “seems like one of the only ways we can go out and make things better.”
“This is the hardest year I’ve ever taught,” she said.
Some schools have yet to return to in-person learning, while others in her school system have had pre-K and kindergarten in classes, 2nd through 5th grade students two days a week in the classroom since November, then high school students returned to in-person learning. In a couple weeks, all students will return in-person four days a week.
Individuals are coming to Hirw for help in finding a vaccine appointment.
She even helped someone in Florida. She was listening to “The Mike O’Meara Show” podcast, and the host was frustrated that he could not get a vaccine appointment.
“It sounded like the exact same things we had been going through in Virginia,” Hirw said.
Hirw looked online at CVS appointments in Florida, and found an availability near where O’Meara lives.
“That one probably made me the most proud,” Hirw said of her advocacy.
She heard of a need and was able to fill that need.
Last Friday she was a guest on “The Mike O’Meara Show” podcast, and spoke about her advocacy.
“It’s been really gratifying,” Hirw said of messages on Facebook from individuals who used her hacks and tips to obtain appointments.
“That’s super rewarding for me,” she said of making a positive impact in the lives of others.
According to Hirw, the best place to obtain a vaccine appointment is vaccinefinder.org, put in your geographic location and all nearby vaccine sites come up.
Hirw said the only drawback to the web site is that it is not updated in real time. For example, you might find that a local CVS is offering vaccine appointments on a day that works for you, but when you go to that CVS’s web site to make an appointment, no appointment times are available.
“I feel a little like I’m attacking the system,” Hirw said of gathering a list of locations offering vaccine appointments.
“I just don’t think if people are aware those [clinics] exist,” Hirw said.
Sentara RMH in Rockingham County also holds regular COVID-19 vaccine clinics. More availability is possible at bigger events such as clinics at Augusta Health and Sentara.
One more hack from Hirw: check out nearby CVS web sites between 9 and 10 a.m.
Hirw said she also recommends knowing nearby zip codes in your area and entering them in search engines for an appointment.
COVID-19 vaccinations at the Waynesboro YMCA
Sunday, March 28, 2021
Must meet one of the following criteria:
- 18-64 years old with chronic health conditions
- 65+ years old
- Healthcare workers
- All essential workers
To register, call Debbie with Christ Tabernacle Church of God in Christ at (540) 949-5575 or (540) 949-1483.
Looking to get a COVID-19 vaccine?
In addition to the state website, you may also register for vaccination clinics/appointments independently (eligibility varies). New clinics and available appointments are posted regularly so check websites daily.
Augusta Health Clinics
Vaccinate Virginia (VDH) or 877-VAX-IN-VA
Walgreens and Kroger are doing vaccinations in some locations. Additional vaccine appointments may also be available at pharmacies through https://vaccinefinder.org/