Most COVID-19 vaccination providers offer appointments through online portals, but many community members are not able to access or navigate complex online registration systems.
With that in mind, Kitsap Public Health District created a team dedicated to assisting people who need help booking appointments over the phone, including those who do not have computer access or have limited English proficiency.
Jessica Phares is one of several Kitsap Public Health staff members who now divide their time between COVID-19 contact tracing and registering community members for KPHD’s vaccination clinics. We asked her to share her experience.
Q: How has it been transitioning from case investigator to helping people register for vaccination?
It’s definitely been a different shift over the past few weeks. Because vaccine work does not take up all of my time, I have been alternating between case investigation and vaccine registration, so I’m not completely done with contact tracing. It’s a more positive side of this work that I’m focusing on with vaccines. Rather than focusing on how many cases there are in the county, I’m focused on helping people get back to normal.
Q; What are the similarities and differences between being a case investigator to your current role in vaccine registration?
With both positions I’m continuing to inform the public, but just about a slightly different topic. With contact tracing I was informing people about how to keep their friends and families safe to stop the spread of COVID. With vaccine registration I’m educating people about who is eligible to receive the vaccine, and the benefits of getting vaccinated.
Another huge difference is how much time I’m spending talking to an individual. With contact tracing I would be talking to someone between a half hour and an hour. With vaccine appointments, I talk to an individual for about 10 minutes unless they’re particularly chatty.
Q: What do your daily tasks include?
Because I’m in a limbo doing both case investigation and vaccine appointments, my tasks change daily. In general, I focus on making vaccine appointments in the morning. The COVID vaccination team has a running list of people who may need help getting registered, and we contact those individuals one by one to help them make an appointment.
Early in the week we have a lot of people to get through, so my teammates and I divvy out the list to make calls. When we exhaust the list, or when appointments are filled for the week, I shift over to the case investigation team to help out. I try to stay updated on both the case investigation lists and vaccine lists because I could shift to either at any time.
Q: What emotions are people experiencing when you reach them? Frustration? Relief?
Honestly, a mixture of both. Some people that I talk with are incredibly frustrated by the process and are angry that they couldn’t get an appointment sooner. Some people are absolutely ecstatic to finally get vaccinated after spending a year at home. Most people I talk to are happy to get a call back and seem to have a positive outlook.
Q: What challenges do people encounter registering for vaccine appointments online?
There are a few challenges that people have come across while trying to make an appointment. Some people don’t have steady access to the internet or computers, and that can be a huge barrier to finding up-to-date information about vaccines.
Some people know where to look on the web site, but get confused by the whole process of how to make an appointment. Lastly, I don’t think people always know when to look for an appointment, so each time they look at a web site the appointments are already full, and they feel frustrated.
Q: What are some common questions people ask?
There are a few questions that people ask very frequently. Often, they ask what the side effects of the vaccine are and how effective the vaccine is. Sometimes people ask about the effectiveness of one vaccine over the other. I try to encourage those individuals to do their own research about each vaccine and share reliable information sources, such as the CDC, state Department of Health, or our KPHD toolkit.
Some people will ask if they can register someone they know while they’re on the phone with me. Unfortunately, because our list can get very long, and being on the list is the same as being in line, I cannot make appointments for those people because it would be similar to cutting in line. I encourage those people to ask friends or family members to book appointments online if they are able, and pass on our vaccine line number to those who need extra help with registration.
Q: How long do registration calls take?
Most of the time when I make an appointment the call lasts about 10 minutes. We ask for information like first and last name, date of birth, address, emergency contact information, and we go over what to expect during and after the appointment. Sometimes the people I talk to can be chatty and want to share their excitement or frustration with the vaccination process. I’ve been on the phone for a half hour with a few people, but that’s not typical really.
Q: How can people make your job easier when you call them?
Definitely, have patience. Please. I understand it has not been easy to make an appointment, and I’m sure people have strong emotions about feeling frustrated and anxious. However, we are all trying our best to get people vaccinated with the tools we have available to end this pandemic.
Also, please know that when we call we are only authorized to make an appointment for the COVID vaccine for the individual we are calling. I’m not able to tell you that you should take one vaccine or the other, or provide medical guidance about whether or not you should be vaccinated. Those conversations are between that individual and their doctor.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of this work for you?
The most rewarding part is being a part of the hope that people feel making that appointment to finally get vaccinated for a virus that has disrupted so many lives. At the end of the day, I’m happy that I can help people see their grandchildren, visit friends, or in general try to get back to pre-COVID normal.
BOOK A COVID-19 VACCINATION APPOINTMENT
Booking online is the fastest way to get a vaccination appointment. Go to covidvaccinwa.org for a list of COVID-19 vaccination providers in your area.
People who do not have computer access or are not able to use an online registration system can get help by phone:
- For help booking an appointment with any provider in Washington, call 1-800-525-0127
- For help booking an appointment at a Kitsap Public Health District clinic, call 360-728-2219 and leave a message.
- Spanish speakers in Kitsap County can call 360-728-2218 for assistance.