June 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The Vaccine Queen of Bergen County

The past year has been difficult in so many ways. Whether it was the loss of a loved one, disruption of school, mental health issues or unemployment, everybody has been affected in some way.

Following one of the greatest health crusades the world has ever seen, a vaccine has finally arrived. With the introduction of the COVID vaccine, we have already begun to see a decrease in daily cases and deaths. This downward trend is expected to continue as more of the population gets inoculated.

Following a further decrease in cases, we expect our lives to get back to normal. Our kids will be able to go to school without fear of closure or quarantine. Many of the unemployed in our community will go back to work. We will be able to once again congregate and see each other’s smiles. Finally, the day we have been praying for is in plain sight. However, before we can get back to normal, it is imperative that those who are most at risk for COVID complications receive the vaccine. Unfortunately, this task is proving quite difficult.

The vaccine rollout has been messy and difficult to navigate. Each county appears to have its own rules, and each vaccination center has its own signup method. It is unclear who is eligible, when one is eligible, and what information is needed.

Most importantly, it is apparent that much of the signup process is occurring via the internet, introducing a difficulty for those who need the vaccine most. Many elderly people are unable to navigate this process online. Making matters worse, most of these vaccination centers fill up quickly, making speed and savvy the most important factors in grabbing one of these coveted spots. As President Biden bemoaned in a recent town hall, “Many people are unable to get ON-line in order to get IN-line.”

This is where the vaccine queen comes in. Debra Okun, a local occupational therapist who is active in the community, has taken this task upon herself. Noticing this issue, she has signed up many local elderly people, as well as those with qualifying health conditions. Due to the overwhelming need in the community, Debra and a few tech-savvy volunteers have been hard at work. Endless refreshing of sign-up pages, social media browsing, and midnight alarms (when many centers post last-minute openings) have become the norm for these “vaccine queens.” Indeed, it is thanks to Debra that my mother received a vaccine after my family had no luck finding a spot on our own.

Thank you to Debra and her group of queens for looking out for the elderly of our community. It is this type of chesed that makes Bergen County among the warmest Jewish communities in the country. If you would like to volunteer or need help signing up, you can reach Debra at [email protected].

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