Alyssa Jenkins was on the phone with her son in mid-February when she let out a scream. In front of her, the computer had refreshed: a COVID-19 vaccine appointment was available.
“I had been hovering over the ‘My Turn’ tool like my life depended on it, because I kind of felt like it did,” Jenkins said.
An English and journalism teacher at Terra Nova High School, Jenkins spent months attentively following every piece of news related to the vaccine. After she booked her own appointment, she immediately began to look online for other teachers and friends. As schools prepared for reopening, she felt as though the health of teachers was not being given the attention it deserved.
Her friend Mindy Camacho is the director of Intercommunal Pre-School, a nonprofit preschool that provides free child care for low-income families in San Mateo. From December to February the school had to shut down three times due to COVID-19. Camacho’s was the second appointment Jenkins booked.
“People like me who had been in the classroom this whole time, we were completely overlooked,” Camacho said.
Jenkins started to find open slots for other teachers in her department, then their spouses, then friends of friends. By April she had booked 316 vaccine appointments, and shows no sign of stopping. Her son, a software developer, even created an automated system to alert her when appointments became available.
Jenkins says she booked appointments for around 30 percent of the staff at Jefferson High School. Once the teachers were covered, she moved on to bus drivers, restaurant workers, and others who had a difficult time understanding how to use the technology. She recalls booking an appointment for an 82-year- old woman from Southern California who could only receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine under doctor’s orders. Most recently, Jenkins spent three full days of her spring break on the computer booking appointments. Members in the community are calling her their very own “vaccine fairy.”
“It’s incredible,” Camacho said. “It’s like Alyssa just put her arms around everyone and gave them this big, physically distant hug.”
What drives Jenkins most to continue booking vaccines is the hope of returning to her classroom. As Terra Nova and other Pacifica schools shifted to remote learning during the pandemic, Jenkins found herself yearning for face-to-face interaction with her students.
“I’m an extrovert. I am not meant to be teaching from my living room,” Jenkins said, through tears. “And if booking a thousand appointments gets our community to the point where I can go back
to what I like to think I do best, then I’ll book a million appointments.”