Fung Fellows are helping people get vaccinated by removing technical barriers
Shotline is a community-powered organization bridging the digital divide in public health by leveraging the tech skills of a widespread, virtual volunteer network to make the COVID-19 vaccine more accessible to communities facing technological barriers.
When Erin Kraemer, BA ’22 (Computer Science), was going for her daily walk, her 93 year old neighbor, Marie Kolstad, flagged her down to request assistance in booking a COVID-19 vaccine. Marie was unable to figure out how to register on her computer and her phone was too old. With Erin’s help, they were able to secure an appointment in just 15 minutes.
After reflecting on this interaction, Erin called on her Fung Fellowship Honors teammates. She was inspired to see what would happen if they poured more resources and effort into helping bridge the digital divide in the COVID-19 vaccination effort. They were actively working on a project geared towards older adults, but found this need to be more relevant and pressing. In the middle of the academic year, they pivoted. In February 2021, Erin, Dorsa Moslehi, BA ’21 (Public Health), Taylor Birdsong, BA ’21 (Rhetoric), and Nseke Ngilbus, BA ’22 (Product Management), launched “Shotline.”
What is Shotline?
Shotline provides free and confidential support to people needing help accessing vaccine appointments due to technological barriers. Community outreach efforts are currently focused on helping those struggling with technology or language barriers to secure a vaccine appointment in California. The group is currently helping 6–10 people a day with a 100% success rate in securing vaccine appointments.
Reconciling efficiency and equity
Shotline’s goal is to build a direct bridge between efficiency and equity for COVID-19 vaccines. Many health equity efforts have been internet-based, which end up being inefficient because of access to technology. For example, earlier in the pandemic, Alameda County distributed access codes meant for those in low-income communities. Shotline commented that this was a great idea in theory, but poorly executed since the codes were misused and failed to reach the intended communities. The Shotline team understood this as a pain point and therefore created a hotline for those to call into. “There is always room to improve,” says Dorsa. “This is why trusted community partnerships are essential,” added Erin.
Centering community partnerships
“We want to make sure that no one feels they are a burden or left behind,” shared Dorsa. The Shotline team wants to ensure that those with technology barriers — especially the older population and Black and Brown communities — know that there is help available. “We also want people from these communities to feel informed about the safety of the vaccines,” says Erin. The team has been using Alameda County resources to emphasize data that show that all three vaccines have been highly effective at preventing illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19. For most people, the best vaccine is the first one that becomes available to them.
The team has been most effective in raising awareness about the hotline through in-person outreach, flyering, and word of mouth. Nseke has taken the lead in conducting community outreach at many Black and Brown community organizations.
Adapting to meet the needs of the community
The team approaches the Shotline project like a startup and attributes their interdisciplinary range of skills, passions, and life experiences to the project’s effectiveness. Erin is the tech developer and product manager, Dorsa is the operations manager and volunteer coordinator, Taylor is the communications strategist, and Nseke is the community outreach manager. “This is an invaluable experience that we’ll all take with us into our future careers,” shared Dorsa. The Fung Fellowship program has given the team a platform to reclaim technology to serve communities that have traditionally been vulnerable to its problems.
“Technological barriers are more prevalent in the elderly community, but this challenge is compounded for those whose primary language is not English,” said Dorsa. The Shotline team is seeing an increase in calls with the expansion of eligibility criteria. They are currently recruiting volunteers with a range of availability and skills, especially those who are bilingual. Anyone interested can visit their website for more information about volunteering.
“We are so proud of what these Honors Fung Fellows have accomplished, including their perseverance and commitment to improving health outcomes.” — Jennifer Mangold, Fung Fellowship Director
“It’s never easy to pivot on product design and delivery — let alone during a pandemic — and the Shotline team did an amazing job working through obstacles together to address a very real and acute market need. From conducting market research, to navigating differing points of view, they astutely assessed their options, prioritizing their customers’ needs. It’s been exciting to see them evolve, and I’m quite excited for what’s to come both for Shotline and the team!” — Amanda Brief, Shotline Mentor and MEng ’15 (IEOR)