When Rev. Nicola Skinner told the congregation at Grace Anglican Church in Markham that she would like to help seniors book appointments for vaccines little did she know it would be the start of the websites markhamvaccinates.com and stouffvillevaccinates.com that have already booked more than 300 vaccine appointments for seniors in the area.
Churchgoer and software engineer Ray Lai heard Skinner’s announcement and was worried the minister’s attempts to book seniors appointments could be a disaster.
“My spidey sense was tingling,” he said.
What started as a Google spreadsheet and form was expanded to a full-blown website because Lai said there was a huge need in the community not just for seniors at the church.
The vaccine rollout was confusing, not to mention the various vaccine sites in the region had different booking systems.
“If I’m a fully-functional tech guy and I can’t make heads or tails of government announcements how can we reasonably expect 80-plus seniors to navigate the system,” he said.
For weeks Lai said there were new announcements that changed everything.
The Markham and Stouffville Vaccinates websites take away all the uncertainty around booking as all a senior does is fill out a form with some personal information and then Lai and his team of volunteers will figure out how to book an appointment on whatever booking system the various vaccine clinics are using.
They have gotten pretty adept at doing this as they have already booked 320 appointments as of March 18 with more than 940 seniors already registered. “We’re trying to make sure no seniors fall through the cracks,” he said. “We are happy it has blown up because we are helping seniors.”
Rev. Skinner was thinking about the seniors at the church when she made her announcement but is thrilled the program can be used by everyone. “Ray is the brains behind the operation,” she said.
When appointments become available a small team of volunteers works feverishly to book appointments. Lai said through muscle memory they have gotten down to a minute per appointment which is important because appointments rarely last long.
While most vaccine sites would announce their appointments before they were made available, Cornell Community Centre would appear randomly. So Lai did what a software engineer does and created a robot to notify them when appointments were available.
Once an appointment has been booked, the work for volunteers doesn’t end. There is a group dedicated to calling seniors to let them know the details of their appointment. Rev. Andrew Colman has been one of those making follow-up calls. “They are very appreciative. They are not a group used to using computers,” he said.
If a senior can’t drive to the appointment there is also a group of drivers coordinated by Bethany Nelson from Cornerstone Community Church. “It’s been really good. We had an established grocery team for seniors and we have shifted to step up and do some more driving,” she said.
Originally called Markhamvaccinates.com, the website expanded to include stouffvillevaccinates.com and serve seniors in Stouffville after Stouffville Mayor Iain Lovatt reached out.
“It was a no-brainer to seek a partnership with Ray from Markham Vaccinates to help Stouffville seniors navigate the vaccination online booking system,” Lovatt said. “Anything we can do to help our seniors get in the cue for available vaccination appointments is a priority for me.”
Seniors in Stouffville can call the library to register by calling 905-642-7323 ext. 5230 from Monday to Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. They can also register online at stouffvillevaccinates.com which goes to the markhamvaccinates.com website.
Daily stats are posted to the website including appointments booked and seniors registered.
“We are going to do this as long as it is required,” Lai said. As appointments become available for the 75 to 80 age cohort and the 70 to 75 age cohort, Lai and his team will continue their efforts.
Story behind the story: Reporter Simon Martin went to see how Markham and Stouffville vaccinates are helping seniors in the area book appointments for vaccines.