Photo courtesy of the Getting Pittsburgh Vaccinated Facebook group.

From the start, Leighann Bacher spent a lot of time online in a frustrating, nearly impossible search for Covid vaccination appointments for her family and herself (she’s 1A).

Her breakthrough came when she saw someone post on Facebook about Spartan Pharmacy, with three locations in the South Hills, getting a new supply of vaccines. “And that’s how I got my dose,” she says.

At the same time, she was scrolling through desperate pleas from others on Facebook who needed help to find an appointment — any appointment, anywhere, pleeease.

Through trial and error, Bacher, who lives in Hampton Twp. and is married with two children, figured out that she could get appointments late at night on the Rite-Aid site. She started sharing her info with other Facebook friends.

Leighann Bacher

Then she connected with Heather Lucci, who was doing the same, and Lucci introduced her to Liz Huber, who was also providing tips online.

In no time, the trio from the North Hills created an immensely helpful Facebook group called Getting Pittsburgh Vaccinated.

“That was three Sundays ago,” Bacher says. “It snowballed super fast.”

Now the site is a robust information hub with everything you need to know about getting a vaccine shot in the Pittsburgh region, from sharing tips to posting when new opportunities arise to getting volunteers to help others who are struggling (and there are plenty).

In one day, members Alyssa Pater and Siao Mei Shick created a comprehensive resource guide –that includes places offering the vaccine, who’s eligible, and how to navigate getting an appointment –that is now continually updated. The guide can be accessed as a Google Doc or downloaded as a PDF file and it includes the link to the “senior document,” for those who need phone numbers to call for vaccine shots.

Group members –anyone can join instantly — can check the Getting Pittsburgh Vaccinated group for key updates all day long such as this one:

The Facebook group is now nearly 23,000 strong and growing by the hour. And no wonder. Has there ever been a time when so much info was needed by so many and was so hard to find?

The vaccine is a ticket to freedom from the virus we’ve spent nearly a year trying to avoid, and the club with vaccinated members is frustratingly small. As a result, the Getting Pittsburgh Vaccinated group, with its valuable advice and helpful outreach, has given hope to many in a time of desperation.

The group is more about helping people help themselves as opposed to doing it for them.

And when people do score appointments, they are triumphant.

It makes you wonder how many have actually gotten shots through this group.

“I’ve been trying to figure it out,” says Bacher. “I think we’re in the tens of thousands. So many people comment: ‘Hey, I got 50 people appointments.’”

There are at least 33 admins on the page, some of whom spend the entire day online filing tips and new opportunities while replying to scores of questions and comments.

“I have been trying to help people who are older, in their late 70s and 80s,” says Bacher, who has contacted people who comment on the page and asked if they want her help.

Where does she find the time? It’s like a second job, says Bacher who works full-time at home at a job with flexible hours. She’s drawn on her journalism background, which has helped with the research and the dissemination of so much information.

And she has taken note of who is joining the group and who who is missing.

“I’m trying to do outreach outside of the page as well because we’re not reaching a diverse audience; a lot of white people are on our page,” she says. “I’m emailing Black churches, senior centers and doing outreach.”

(Want to help with this effort? Email them here.)

Bacher also learned along the way to sharpen the focus of the group so it’s simply an information hub, not a medical resource nor a paid service to get appointments (there are a lot of scam artists on that front, she warns.)

Since the situation shifts so often, the posts are frequent. They will announce that AHN just opened appointments, for example, or that the health provider just moved from the 75+ age group to 65+ and 1A.

“Last week we had a lot of success with Giant Eagle,” she says. Before that, it was Rite-Aid. “AHN has been consistently really good,” Bacher adds.

How long will they keep the group going?

“Until we’re irrelevant,” she replies. “People are clinging to us right now. The peak is supposed to be May. So we’re probably relevant until the summer.”

In the meantime, “We’re going to give you all the information we have and hope that’s going to help you and help others,” she says.

It’s only been three weeks since the group’s creation, but they’re learning fast on the fly. “We were creating a bit of hysteria,” in the beginning, notes Bacher. “It was becoming such a frantic thing.”

Now their message is clear and calm: “It will happen, just keep following the page.”

For those new to the group, Bacher suggests going to the resource document first. “Every tip we ever compiled is in there. It’s at the top of the (Facebook) page.”

As for booking appointments, “You have to be persistent,” she adds. “It’s such a hard thing right now. Things aren’t going to be handed to you. But things will continue to get better.”

They now have a list of which providers are getting vaccines and how much they’re getting, and clinics are contacting her privately and offering her inside information. It all helps.

“Hang in there,” she says, ever the comforter.  “It’s coming and you will get it. Hold on just a little bit longer.”

Tracy is the founder and Editor at Large of NEXTpittsburgh which she started in March 2014 and sold in December 2020. She is passionate about making Pittsburgh a better place for all and connecting people to do the same.