This is Rosanna Pizza and Erika Twist: COVID Vaccine Warriors
By Jennifer Ersalesi
Photo credits: Rosanna Pizza and Erika Twist
Two lifelong Rutherford residents, Erika Twist and Rosanna Pizza have found a way to truly help so many members of their community, including residents’ extended families. Back in October, Erika and Rosanna started a Rutherford COVID Updates Facebook page to help share information and for community discussion. The Facebook page recently became a source of much-needed assistance for those who desperately wanted COVID vaccine appointments, but were unable to obtain on their own. Rosanna and Erika have been able to directly or indirectly get vaccine appointments for hundreds of people. This is Rutherford spoke with Rosanna Pizza who answered a series of questions on behalf of both herself and Erika Twist.
TIR: When did you begin helping members in the community get vaccination appointments?
Rosanna Pizza: The evolution to helping obtain vaccinations started in early January when the floodgates for the state system opened. We immediately got researching how to find the vaccines and it really took off when we realized the state wasn’t going to be providing or booking and there was a huge void.
Erika Twist: I started helping the community at the end of January.
TIR: Why did you feel like you wanted to help? Which part of the population did you feel needed the most assistance?
RP: We each have different reasons but it boils down to the system being broken and impossible especially for those without technology skills - on a state level and in our own community where there is little to no help or resources especially for the elderly without computers or internet or Facebook. How could and would these folks be able to get what others can? People are dying. They are terrified. You have to read some of the messages we get or hear the calls pleading for help. If the vaccines can help stop the spread and help stop people from dying then we need to get as many people’s appointments as we can. Erika and I have that ability since we are technologically savvy and have the time. I know had my parents been alive they wouldn’t have the ability to get an appointment. The elderly and the vulnerable were and are our biggest focus.
ET: We lost my Father-in-law back in November because of the virus. Since this tremendous loss to my family, it has become my mission in the last month to get as many people a vaccine appointment as I can. No family should lose someone this way, not when there is a vaccine; unfortunately, the vaccine is hard to get. I had to get an appointment for my mom and dad. Once I started looking into where appointments were available, many different locations across the state each with their own website to book on and very little information on how to obtain appointments, I knew people needed help. Any part of the population who is currently eligible has little knowledge of technology, little time to do all the research necessary to get an appointment, and very little to no ability to move quickly through websites. I think the elderly population is probably the most disadvantaged, they make up a large part of the eligibility pool and also a large part of the technologically disadvantaged as well.
TIR: To this date, do you know approximately how many people you have helped get COVID vaccines?
RP: To date, we’ve probably gotten in the range of approximately 200 if not more direct bookings by us with an unknown number of indirect – that’s where we have provided links and round the clock alerts to openings and intel of that sort and others have been able to book for themselves or others. There’s no way to tell what the numbers could be by what has come of that and how many people have helped others compounding the numbers. We also have other volunteers now helping as well.
ET: With everyone who helps on the page and Rosanna and I, we are well over 200 appointments.
TIR: How do you go about securing vaccine appointment times?
RP: We use tools like Twitter bots and links to information and predictions that are all over the internet and Facebook. There are also larger pages that started after ours with discussion and I try to skim through threads and see what people throughout the state are putting out there. It takes a lot of time reading, researching, listening for pings by Twitter, and opening various other facilities’ pages to scour for information.
ET: I exclusively use the Hackensack Meridian Health site for the mega-site in the Meadowlands. I obtain necessary information from each person, I load the info into my browser autofill feature and when an appointment opens I try my best to get it.
TIR: What has been some of the feedback you have received so far?
RP: Well much of the feedback is right on our page but the amount of texts and private messages and emails is overwhelming. People telling us we’ve changed lives. That we really changed their lives and helped “save lives”-that we “are saving lives”. A new friend said that her friend couldn’t see his wife for the past 6 months due to her being in a nursing home for advanced dementia and that he tried desperately to get the vaccine because he needed to see her and wanted to go live with her. A cancer patient telling me that his doctor warned him not to catch COVID because it would be a death sentence for him and that even being a patient at a cancer center, they could do nothing to help him get an appointment, but he called us “miracle workers”. Statements like this,“ I cannot thank you enough as this is a burden lifted from not only me but our entire family. You certainly are our guardian angel in this instance. I think it is a wonderful thing that you are doing, especially for us, the older population, that doesn’t know how to do things that are computer-related. Thank you again for your concern and tremendous assistance. God bless you and keep you safe and well.” Another sweet woman called us “dedicated warriors… warriors become heroes.”
ET: Everyone is very happy with our efforts. They’re mostly thankful that someone is helping.
TIR: Knowing that you have helped so many people get the vaccine must make you feel like you’ve truly assisted those in your community (as well as surrounding communities). What do you feel has been most rewarding about these experiences?
RP: What’s most rewarding is what a sense of purpose it has given me (after being in a funk for several reasons for a long time). Knowing my parents would be proud of me. The biggest reward is knowing that people might feel a little less scared and that maybe someone will survive this if God forbid they catch this. That the most vulnerable and elderly can possibly have more interaction and less loneliness and isolation. For those who are technologically savvy, they’ve expressed that we’ve helped them understand the nuances and ways to help others and their families and that we gave them the tools to do so!
ET: Most rewarding for me is knowing that this *hopefully* helps another family from suffering the tremendous loss we suffered at the hands of this virus. Giving everyone hope that maybe soon we can all go back to life without hesitation because of fear.
TIR: What would you like people to understand about the process that you must go through to obtain vaccination appointments?
RP: It could be a full-time job and has been for the last two months. You have to put in the time to read the threads and do research and it is many, many hours. If you do get that down pat, then it’s making time and effort to get on the various sites and just keep trying and be organized and prepared with your information. People are great. They understand we are operating in seconds to snag appointments – they don’t get a choice when and where so they have to be committed to that (that the appointment could be as soon as the next day), they are so grateful. Erika and I convene all day long and every night before twelve to get psyched and mentally ready like game time!
ET: It takes a lot of work. This is a commitment through and through. Between Monitoring the COVID information page, obtaining people’s information, inputting the information into autofill, occasional refreshing of the website to look for appointments, staying up until 12 midnight for appointment releases, trying about 5 times for each person who needs help, trying to schedule spouses together. It’s definitely not just as simple as opening the website and picking a time and day for each person. There are thousands of people trying to get hundreds of appointments each night. I put the same effort into each person’s appointment that I put into getting my own parents' appointments.
TIR: What else can you tell us about this experience?
RP: I’ve made new friends thanks to this page and become acquainted with many others in my community! Keep on checking our page for information and updates. Join it. It is full of great vibes and positive energy, a real community page where there is an emphasis on helping each other, sharing kindness, and paying it forward to get us through this pandemic!
ET: I started helping people get appointments because I saw how much time and research has to go into even learning how to get an appointment. It is absolutely incredible how many people really need help. It’s almost as if it’s down to a science to getting appointments. EVERYONE is having trouble, it is so much harder than it has to be. So many demographics are at a disadvantage to this system; the system doesn’t favor anyone who is short on time or has little knowledge of/access to technology. Working within the parameters of the broken system is a challenge in itself, extremely frustrating most times but I’m so happy WE can help as many people as we are.