‘Vaccine Queens’ help seniors navigate frustrating signups for COVID-19 shots

Coronavirus

Two Northeast Ohio moms sign up nearly 500 for vaccinations

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CHAGRIN FALLS, Ohio (WJW)– Two stay-at-home moms miles apart from one another are now working together to make a big difference across Northeast Ohio.

They’re called the “Vaccine Queens” and their goal is to help seniors sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine. It’s a process that can be confusing, time consuming and frustrating.

“We’ve been able to help so many people. We’re closing in on almost 500 appointments,” said Marla Zwinggi, of Chagrin Falls.

It started with helping her parents, then friends, then strangers through social media.

“We initially were doing it on Facebook, handwriting things out with Sharpie markers and note cards,” Zwinggi said. “I was doing a lot of copy and pasting from chat window to appointment window.”

What she didn’t know is Stacey Bene, of Medina, was doing the same thing.

“I mean, I think Marla and I saw a gap and we’re trying to fill it,” Bene said. “If not us, then who?”

The job is no small task, both moms are taking the time to help others while still balancing their children’s remote learning schedules and other responsibilities.

“People ask me how is that possible when you have three children at home doing virtual learning and it’s tough,” Zwinggi said.

“During the day, I am full-time mom and then at night freelance design. At 10 o’clock at night after they’re in bed, I am up booking appointments,” she said. “So, it’s not eight to 10 hours straight, but it’s two hours here, doing laundry, doing dishes, playing dolls, getting back into the appointments.”

Seniors above the age of 65 qualify for a shot, but it remains out of reach for many trying to navigate the internet — some for the first time.

“People are on nine or 10 lists, and they’re not getting calls,” Zwinggi said. “We can help them.”

It’s a difference that meant the world for Kathy Offutt who gets vaccinated early next month.

“My husband passed away from COVID in December,” Offutt said.

“We both had it at the same time and he didn’t make it. And Stacey saw what my daughter wrote on Facebook about him passing away and decided she wanted to help people get their vaccine. So, the same thing wouldn’t happen to them and she has been a Godsend to a lot of people.”

Bene previously worked as a medical social worker and has cystic fibrosis. She got her shot and wants others to feel that same relief. 

“It seems like a little thing, not a big deal. But I think for some people this is the beginning of the end of this,” Bene said.

The end of this pandemic is possibly a little closer, thanks in part to two moms on a mission to help others.

“We’ve had relief, we’ve had tears, celebration, every emotion you can imagine all wrapped up into one,” Zwinggi said. “It’s caused tears for me, it’s unbelievable.”

The team can be reached at vaccinequeens@gmail.com.

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