Dr. Britni Hebert has been an internist in private practice in Lafayette, where she was born and raised, for seven years. When the COVID-19 vaccine initially became available, she felt relieved; a significant portion of her patients are elderly, and after a year “in crisis mode,” the shot felt nothing short of miraculous.
However, “it wasn’t an easy rollout for some people,” she says. At first, Britni spent hours on the phone arranging vaccine appointments for her own patients. “I kept thinking: God, who’s doing this for other people?”
So she started a hotline, the Acadiana Vaccine Finder, and enlisted the help of Stacy Conrad. Stacy, a medic-turned-fulltime-caretaker to her children, began taking calls at 6:30 in the morning. Before long, the hotline had more than 140 volunteers working the phones. Alison Breaux, a friend and colleague, helped with administration and website design. Their efforts ultimately helped more than 1,000 different people navigate the often-complicated process of scheduling vaccine appointments.
“The hotline was all about removing the technology barrier,” Stacy says. “To help underserved communities — people who don’t have computers, people who can’t read. These people were left behind, but we wanted to make it very easy for them to borrow somebody’s phone and call us.”
Since then, the nature of the challenge has changed.
“We have two pandemics right now,” Stacy says. “One of misinformation, and one from a virus.”
Originally, Britni says, “the vaccine hotline was all about removing the barrier for people desperate to get protected. But misinformation is a very difficult barrier. A lot more resistant.”
You can still visit the original Acadiana Vaccine Finder website online, but the hotline’s since been centralized by the state. Nonetheless, they both continue to battle misinformation in their work. Stacy now works with the Louisiana Department of Health as vaccine ambassador for Region 4, and Britni regularly makes informational Tik-Toks to educate the community on the finer points of the coronavirus and its vaccine.
In the years to come, Britni hopes people in Lafayette are “still doing the things that they love with the people they love without physical limitations from this virus. But I do also hope that we carry with us a better understanding of our vulnerability as human beings.”