Carbondale women form Shot Whisperers: an organized effort to help valley residents get their COVID-19 vaccine

Immunization Coordinator Laurie Cohen holds a vial of the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine in the Community Health Services building in Aspen on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Once the second round of the COVID-19 vaccine is administered, Niki Delson said the relief and gratitude people feel is totally tangible.

It’s one year into the pandemic and some people are feeling burnt out on quarantine, but finishing off the double dose of the vaccination, Delson said, brightens the light at the end of the tunnel.

“The feeling of people after they get their vaccine it’s almost like you want to raise your hand and say, ‘Hallelujah!’ …you can see in people’s eyes…a kind of sense of relief that maybe life can return to some normalcy and you can hug somebody in the future,” Delson said.

Delson is co-chair for the Carbondale Age-Friendly Community Initiative (CAFCI) as well as one-third of the Carbondale Shot Whisperers team. The two other women who make up the trio are Nicolette Toussaint, a retired journalist and steering committee member at CAFCI, and Ryn Calhoon, a registered nurse and member of the Carbondale Emergency Task Force. Calhoon said each of the women was trying to find a way to help elderly community members get their vaccines, and when they stumbled upon each other they decided it would be best to join efforts.

“I recall pretty clearly how this happened…Nicolette posted on Carbondale’s Mutual Aid Facebook group, ‘Boy I’m sure seeing people having some difficulty getting vaccinated.’ So I called Nicolette and Niki and said ‘Girls, I think we’re all doing the same thing, let’s coordinate ourselves,'” Calhoon said.

Toussaint said the women had realized that online appointments and phone calls were not the most effective way to reach the older demographic of valley residents, the people who arguably had some of the highest needs for the vaccine. It was her personal frustration with the process that inspired her to start helping direct others on how they could expedite their own vaccination timelines, and where to look for availability.

“I’m watching everybody get shots because Colorado said, ‘OK, if you’re over 70 you can get a shot.’ I’m 69 and 1/2 and I have three underlying conditions, and I have a 90-year-old husband who’s had three strokes…I’m an at-home caregiver and none of that qualified me for a shot,” Toussaint said.

Karin Bannerot, a resident of the valley out in Missouri Heights, said she had a similar issue qualifying for the vaccine. Bannerot is a registered nurse and works multiple jobs one of which is being a child care health consultant at the state company and at two childcares in the valley. Bannerot said besides working with children part-time, she also has Type 1 Diabetes but neither of those things allowed her to qualify for the vaccine.

“I could not get vaccinated in Pitkin or Garfield County even though I do my preschool teaching for Garfield Teachers and the SkiCo which is Pitkin County, no one was claiming me…the pitfalls are if you’re self-employed, which I am, and…I felt like i was a woman without the backing of an employer per say because I don’t work full-time in any of my jobs,” Bannerot said.

Since Bannerot is trained as a nurse she ended up getting her vaccine by stopping by a clinic at the Eagle County Community Center, and saying although she wasn’t on the list, she was willing to wait in case there were any no-shows to get vaccinated. It turned out that the Medical Moderator for that clinic wasn’t able to come that day, and asked if Bannerot was able to step in for that afternoon.

“I said I’ll clear my calendar for this afternoon, and I did. So I got my first shot Jan. 8, filled in quickly…so then Feb. 5 was my second shot so I volunteered to work that clinic all afternoon again,” Bannerot said.

Delson was the one who helped Bannerot’s husband, who is 66 and has chronic lung issues, receive his vaccine. Bannerot said she had been exchanging resource information with Delson for a while when Delson reached out and told her Mountain Family Health Center in Glenwood needed 10 people and they had one more vial of the vaccine. Delson said word of mouth and knowing where to look for these extra doses is how many are seizing the opportunity to get vaccinated.

“It’s just finding out who did not use up all of their vaccines. I mean maybe people couldn’t come in for an appointment and so they still have some left over but no appointments scheduled for that extra. That’s how competitive it is to be able to get vaccinated,” Delson said.

Calhoon said although finding these clinics with vaccines to spare is challenging, everyone she has talked to told her that once they had arrived at the clinic the process was incredibly easy. Toussaint agreed and said that when it was time for her husband to get his vaccine at Valley View it seemed like half the town of Carbondale was there, but the operation still ran very smoothly. Part of the confusion comes from medical professionals being overworked and having to juggle many tasks at once, Calhoon said.

“The Feds said ‘OK here’s the vaccine, you handle it state,’ and the state said, ‘OK counties you handle it.’ And everybody is doing it differently. It’s the same people who have been burdened with doing the contact tracing and organizing the testing that are now burdened with the vaccine aspect,” Calhoon said.

Delson, Toussaint and Calhoon all agreed that the healthcare workers in the Valley are doing a wonderful job, and with Shot Whisperers they just want to make information more accessible and help streamline the process to get people who need the vaccine where they need to be.

Vaccine access or joining Shot Whisperers info

For information about vaccine access in Garfield County visit this website

To schedule a vaccine at Valley View Hospital (VVH) go here. Valley View said, “If no vaccine product is available then no appointments will be scheduled.” If you do not have internet access call the VVH community hotline at 970-384-7632.

All three Shot Whisperers are currently based in Carbondale but said they are looking to expand and bring other volunteers in from different parts of the Valley, especially as more vaccines are being delivered. To help in their efforts to share COVID-19 resources or learn more about how you can get the vaccine, feel free to use their contact info as listed below.

Niki Delson: / 707-496-3322

Nicolette Toussaint: / 970-963-3674

Ryn Calhoon: / 970-618-1257

More Like This, Tap A Topic