EDISON – Volunteers are working ’round the clock’ to help schedule COVID-19 vaccinations for fellow residents through the Edison Community Vaccine Help group.
The effort initially began with resident Biral Patel, who reached out to several hundreds of seniors to help them get registered at the New Jersey Convention and Expo Center in Edison – one of the state’s six mega vaccine sites – and the vaccination site at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick.
Patel, who was selected on Jan. 21 to fill the vacant seat left by Board of Education (BOE) member Ralph Errico, who stepped down on Dec. 31, raised his efforts at BOE/Township committee meetings to get seniors, educators and educational support staff members vaccinated. He then took his efforts to the Township Council meetings and addressed it with the township administration.
Not getting much traction, Patel continued seeking appointments for as many people that he could by himself.
When pharmacies started offering vaccination appointments, Patel stayed up late in the night and woke up early in the morning booking appointments. Soon after getting input from fellow members of the community, he decided to put a notification on social media, which garnered several dedicated volunteers – some professionals, some high school students and some who were already engaged in community services.
Patel’s solo efforts became a group effort. The volunteers worked very hard round the clock to secure appointments for several hundreds of township seniors, some teachers, educational support staff and those with certain conditions eligible per state guidelines.
The volunteer group became Edison Community Vaccine Help. They put a Google form together and mobilized to work through all resources available and sites available to sign up for vaccine appointments.
Volunteer Subodh Sharma, who is an IT professional, said scheduling the vaccine is “very tech heavy.”
“While helping people getting their vaccine, I was able to connect with few wonderful seniors who were very warm and thankful,” he said. “That made all those long frustrating nights looking for appointments really worth.”
Volunteer Neeraj Nagpal, a senior director of finance at a large non-profit organization, said “even with an increased supply of vaccinations, it was not easy to get appointments.”
“It is critical for our first responders, health care providers, educators, education support staff members, people with underlying conditions and other key groups to get vaccinated,” he said. “It is such a rewarding experience to do my part along with other committed volunteers and help out in this way. We hope things get easier soon, but in the meantime, we will continue to provide as much help as we can.”
Volunteer Subamaniam Dharmarajan, a professional at BNY Melon, was instrumental in creating the intake Google form.
“Together we are able to help hundreds of Edison residents get their vaccine shots,” he said. “By helping others, I felt needed in the society. Not only did it boost my self-esteem, but others benefited too.”
Volunteer Sravan Natakala, a professional at JP Morgan Chase, said “giving back to the community is always a great pleasure and felt like my family and my duty.”
Since its inception, the Edison Community Vaccine Help volunteer group has received many heartfelt appreciation notes from people they have helped.
“Not enough words to express gratitude for helping me secure my vaccine appointment so promptly and thereafter for so many others as well,” said resident Priti Goel. “Seeing a group of people working tirelessly at late night and early [morning] hours, sacrificing personal comfort while managing your own regular day jobs and life to help strangers is a super heartwarming gesture that restores faith in humanity and needs to be applauded out aloud especially in times like now.”
Just this past week, the tireless efforts of Patel, along with BOE member Virginia White, chairperson of the BOE-Township Council Liaison Committee – who also include Board Vice President Mohin Patel and BOE member Shivi Prasad-Madhukar – paid off in following up and exploring all avenues to ensure educators and support staff members receive their vaccination on an immediate basis.
The committee worked with Schools Superintendent Bernard Bragen, township administrators and Edison Office of Emergency Management Director Andy Toth.
On March 18, school and township officials announced the Edison Public Schools is working with Hackensack Meridian Health and JFK Medical Center to provide COVID-19 vaccines to all teachers and staff members.
Patel praised the efforts of everyone involved at a board meeting on March 18. He said their “efforts will not stop” until everyone is able to resume a normal life post COVID-19.
“We want to be ahead of the curve when [vaccines for children are] available so we are fully prepared,” he said.
Patel and some of his volunteers are also giving rides to some seniors to vaccination sites apart from continually spending days and nights with setting up residents with vaccination appointments.