Teachers turned ‘vaccine hunters’ help elderly Latinos get vaccinated in Maryland
Maria Peterson and Tanya Aquilara created the effort following their own struggles to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Teachers Maria Peterson and Tanya Aquilara are starting their own nonprofit organization to help older Latinos make appointments for COVID-19 vaccines.
It all started when Peterson and Aquilara from Montgomery County, Maryland, were searching to find vaccine appointments for themselves but thought they should help older Latinos find appointments too.
“As teachers, we’re very quick and tech-savvy. The elderly might not have the technology in front of them, many of them do not have email addresses,” Peterson told WBAL11 News.
The impactful educators, who call themselves the “Vaccine Hunters,” are now dedicating themselves to ensuring that vulnerable elderly people secure a spot to receive their vaccinations.
To help, they made a spreadsheet with all of the county’s state and private COVID-19 vaccination sites.
In a span of a month, six more teachers volunteered.
“The first week, we got over 220 seniors booked, they just tug on your heartstrings for every story that you hear,” teacher Courtney Mason told WDVM News.
Four of the eight teachers helping are fluent in Spanish, which has been a huge help.
"We're able to field calls, we're able to field emails, we're able to get our messages out in English and Spanish," Aquilara said.
Since the pandemic hit last March, a devastating percentage of Latinos have died and others left wondering if the same fate will happen to them.
"The language barrier for the Latino community is heartbreaking. The sites are mostly in English, and if they do have that translation button into Spanish, it's still very much foreign to them," Aquilara said.
As vaccines are now being administered to other eligible people, the vaccine hunters said they are saddened that some elderly people are being turned down.
“There was someone that I couldn’t help just the other day, and I just busted out crying because I couldn’t really help them and I was probably their only hope,” teacher Dina Ciccone said to WDVM News.
The other key issue is getting elderly citizens to their appointments.
“They need clinics close by. A lot of people we’ve spoken to are afraid to leave their house for 10 minutes because of their health conditions,” said Mason.
Most senior citizens haven’t set a foot outside for months for fear of catching the virus.
"They sound desperate and it's heartbreaking to see so many elderly people who have not left their house in so long, they're venturing out to hopefully get the vaccine," Peterson said.
With that in mind, the vaccine hunters have no plans to stop anytime soon.
The smiles they see from seniors give them more than enough fuel to forge ahead with their efforts.
“Call us,” Peterson said. “We know how to do this.”
For more information on the teachers’ selfless act of kindness, feel free to email them at [email protected]