From Book Club to Pandemic Superheroes
Photo Credit: Alexandra Fuller/Unsplash
Across the country, countless cities and states are running into the same hurdles during the coronavirus pandemic: getting COVID shots into arms.
Vaccines may be available, but the journey from production to actually injecting the shots has been a bumpy road. In some places, issues range from confusion over who is eligible, where to actually go for injections, or computer-registration glitches. In others, challenges range from long lines to limited medical professionals who can do the job.
Earlier this year in the small city of Ruidoso, New Mexico — just over an hour west of mystery-laden Roswell — a community of around 7,900 solved several of those problems at once.
Small businesses, people that we know around the community, are struggling. This is the least we can do to help.
And, encouragingly in a time when science and education can be overwhelmed by rhetoric, it was a book club that came to the rescue.
Since early January, the Fabulous Ladies Book Club has run one of a handful of community vaccination sites in the region, headquartered at a health clinic run almost entirely by book club members, their families, and friends.
“We will have vaccinated more than 2,400 people,” says Dr. Keri Rath, an obstetrics and gynecology specialist at Presbyterian Medical Group in Ruidoso, who co-founded the book club seven years ago. “Small businesses, people that we know around the community, are struggling. This is the least we can do to help.”
The book club of around a dozen members last met in person a year ago — before the pandemic led to shutdowns and virtual events around the country — over wine, snacks, and conversation about Becoming, the memoir by Michelle Obama. The usual meetup spot for the Fabulous Ladies was Ranchers, a steakhouse on Sudderth Drive, a main commercial strip.
During the pandemic, the group turned to Zoom to discuss such selections Glennon Doyle’s memoir, Untamed. While keeping physically distant was the safest route for the hodgepodge group of professionals and mothers who were in their 40s, the lack of in-person connection was sorely felt.
Then came the vaccines.
Local hospital employees had worked tirelessly to vaccinate health care workers at direct risk for infection — tier 1A in the state’s guidelines. But the need was also great in the next tier, 1B, which included people who were 75 years old and older, those older than 16 who had underlying medical conditions that put them at risk for COVID-19, and front-line essential workers who were unable to work remotely. That population was harder to reach.
Late last year, Rath’s husband got a phone call from the New Mexico health department saying that it had vaccine doses — it just needed help distributing them. A doctor who worked for the New Mexico Air National Guard, Rath’s husband also operated a private clinic called Fusion Wellness.
Keri Rath quickly shot off emails and phone calls to her book club members, a team that included women who worked in such diverse fields as law, yoga instruction, veterinary medicine, and IT. Within days, 600 doses of the Moderna vaccine and 900 of the Pfizer vaccine were shipped to a vaccination clinic that the group had set up at Fusion Wellness. They helped get the word out, and community members began arriving quickly.
“We had enough trained people that we knew to put shots in arms, but not enough for crowd control, sanitation, sign-up, and all those parts that you need for a successful vaccination site,” says Rath. “That’s where the club came together. Members called their families and friends to spread the word. My mom, a retired Spanish teacher, registered people who were Spanish speakers. My daughter helped draw flowers in the clinic parking lot to make sure people were six feet apart.”
Model for Success
The clinic was so successful that it started vaccinating residents in the 1B category before other parts of the state had moved on to that demographic. In a nation where success has been plentiful in the science of vaccines yet confusion has reigned over their distribution, the Fabulous Ladies Book Club is a small but important success story, one whose success could inspire others at scale.
We have such a good time together as a book club and learn from the books and from each other. Now, we have a chance to be together again — safely — for a good and important cause.
Liz Smith, a book club member and IT worker who helped coordinate the sign-up process for vaccinations, describes the journey as a way for her and others to “finally do something to help end this nightmare.”
“We have all had our ups, downs, and sideways during the last 11 months,” says Smith, “and being part of this effort gave all of us the opportunity to finally help, finally do something to help end this nightmare — help open up our schools, businesses, and our town in general.”
“The feeling has been magnetic,” adds Smith. “We have a single focus. We enjoy working with one another, we are so grateful for the opportunity, and we want to give back to our community. We want to take the joy we have from participating in this clinic and effect change in our tiny part of the world.”
To Rath, it was also a way for the group of friends to finally come together after being apart for so long.
“We have such a good time together as a book club and learn from the books and from each other,” she says. “Now, we have a chance to be together again — safely — for a good and important cause.”
This post is part of a month-long February CircleAround series, tied to Galentine's Day. What was once a celebratory day on a fictional TV sitcom has emerged, like Festivus before it, as a very real day, spawning a legion of loyal followers. That's because it celebrates the platonic friendships among women. We asked writers — and readers — to tell us how their gal pals are helping them navigate one of the most challenging periods in our history, as well as to share stories about their meaningful female friendships. To see all the posts in the series — including relevant news stories — visit here. And if you'd like to contribute to the series, send us your thoughts to email@example.com or post on our "2021 Inspiration Wall."