UC Berkeley Fung fellows create vaccine ‘Shotline’ to address digital barriers

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Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff
Members of the UC Berkeley Fung Fellowship Honors program created "Shotline," a hotline for people struggling to book vaccine appointments. The hotline aims to aid communities who have difficulties signing up for a COVID-19 vaccine.

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After becoming eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination, 93-year-old Marie Kolstad tried to schedule an appointment for days but faced challenges with the online process. When Kolstad asked her neighbor Erin Kraemer for help, Kraemer noted the need to address technological barriers for specific communities acquiring the vaccine.

Subsequently, UC Berkeley seniors and Fung Fellowship Honors program members, Kraemer, Dorsa Moslehi, Taylor Birdsong and Nseke Ngilbus created “Shotline,” a hotline for people struggling to book vaccine appointments. As part of their Fung Fellowship Honors program project, the team members work with community partners and volunteers to handle phone calls and find vaccine appointments, according to Moslehi.

“There are a lot of people who want to help out and there are a lot of people who need help,” Kraemer said. “We’re really trying to connect the people who want to help with the people who need help.”

A previous project through the fellowship helped the team become familiar with the technological challenges older adults face, according to Birdsong. While the project initially focused only on older adults, it broadened to include other communities that struggle to sign up for a vaccine, Kraemer said.

Through the fellowship, students learn about human-centered design and how to interview others for their projects, Birdsong said. Kraemer added that they consulted with many older adults to ensure their system fit the needs of their target users.

Additionally, Kraemer said the team spent a month developing the hotline infrastructure and another couple of weeks determining the logistics of how to handle a phone call.

“We go through a list of comprehensive questions, based on the information we need to book an appointment, as well as demographic questions for our own purposes,” Moslehi said.

Information required for the hotline includes a caller’s birthdate, any preexisting conditions and how far they are willing to travel for their appointment, among other factors, according to Moslehi.

Once the information is collected, volunteers called “sleuths” search for a variety of locations and book available appointments, Moslehi said. The team then calls the recipient back within four days, and so far, they have been able to find an appointment for every caller.

Currently, the Shotline project helps about six to 10 people a day, according to Kraemer.

“We are still in the initial stages,” Moslehi said. “Our plan is to hopefully scale and help additional communities.”

Moslehi added that before expanding their project, the team wants to ensure that its volunteering system is equipped to handle the influx of calls that would come with the scaling.

People looking to volunteer, donate or share Shotline with others can go to the team’s website, Moslehi said.

“If anyone is interested in volunteering or using us as a service, we’d love to help!” Birdsong said.

Contact Vani Suresh at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @vanisuresh_.