Dial 2-1-1 to learn about COVID-19 vaccine or to get help signing up

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

“I think of us as Switzerland, like this trusted source in a sea of information,” said Peter Gannon, president and chief executive officer of United Way of the Greater Capital Region.

ALBANY COUNTY — United Way is easing the burden for the county’s health department in taking calls from residents who have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Residents may dial 2-1-1 to learn about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine and how to sign up for a vaccination.

“I think of us as Switzerland, like this trusted source in a sea of information,” said Peter Gannon, president and chief executive officer of United Way of the Greater Capital Region.

He noted that, back in March, when the pandemic first hit Albany County, United Way used its 2-1-1 number for people to report price gouging and it can still be used for that.

Then, the number was used, and still is, to make emergency food requests.

“United Way has really tried to maintain some agility,” said Gannon at Monday morning’s county press conference.

Of the current calls, he said, “Everybody wants an appointment and a needle in their arms.”

Gannon stressed that a call to United Way won’t secure an appointment. Rather, the caller will be helped to navigate the state’s system for signing up.

He said the line can be used “for individuals who don’t have the savvy to get online” and noted, “There’s no magic back channel to a vaccine.”

The line is also used to “get out information the vaccine is safe and effective,” he said.

If the queue of callers is long, residents can leave their phone number and will be called back.

The biggest increase in calls lately, besides for vaccination information, Gannon said, is about tenant-landlord relationships — with calls coming in from both tenants and landlords.

In the next week, residents with an annual income of $57,000 or less will be able to schedule appointments for free help with tax preparation.

Volunteers trained by the Internal Revenue Service will also be able to help callers make sure they got federal stimulus money, he said.

Meetings will not be in person this year, Gannon said. Rather, residents will drop off information and schedule tele-visits to get help from an IRS-trained volunteer.

Gannon also encouraged residents to go online to UnitedToVolunteer.org to help with a range of initiatives including support in managing vaccinations.

United Way sees its role as mobilizing people who want to step up and help their community, Gannon said.

He concluded, “Get off the sidelines and get into the game.”

More Regional News

  • A New York variant of the virus, known as B.1.526, has been increasing in recent weeks. 

  • More than half of the grants are going to minority-owned businesses, women-owned businesses, and veteran-owned businesses, said Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy.

  • The state and federal governments together have opened mass vaccination sites for Black and brown communities, which have disproportionately been hurt by the pandemic. One of those sites is at the Washington Avenue Armory in Albany. Appointments begin on March 3 for residents of these ZIP codes: 12202, 12206, 12207, 12209, and 12210.

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