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Exploring Life & Business with Mina Raj of Don’t Wait to Vaccinate

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mina Raj.

Hi Mina, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
The pandemic has affected everyone, from losing family and friends to sacrificing all parts of life. In early December 2020, as I read about the COVID-19 vaccination progress, I realized that the vaccine provided a chance to end the ever-increasing hospitalizations and return to normalcy. However, as I looked to my community, I encountered countless remarks that challenged the efficacy and safety of the vaccines. As someone who excitedly anticipated the release of the vaccines, these reservations about the vaccines concerned me. So, I talked to two of my friends. Together, Breland Bach, Lucy Roberts, and I founded Don’t Wait to Vaccinate, an organization aiming to help individuals get vaccinated. After developing the idea of the organization, we grew our team to maximize our ability to help the Dallas community. So, we reached out to some of our classmates and friends, and now, we have an AMAZING team of extremely talented people!

As the organization started to grow, our reach into the community grew as well. In early February, we partnered with Armijo Dallas Helps, a grassroots organization that had started to host vaccine registration events. Since then, we have worked to promote the vaccine and vaccine registrations in both online and physical spaces. First, we share infographics online (both on social media and on our website) to augment the spread of reliable information. By posting infographics each week, we aim to empower individuals to register for the vaccine. Our Social Media Managers – Lea Whitley and Daniella Bayly – have spearheaded this effort. Together, they have ingeniously created a community of over 1400 individuals. Recently, they started the Instagram hashtag #idwtv (I Don’t Wait To Vaccinate) to encourage users to share photos of them getting the vaccine. We hope that this will help encourage their friends and family to also get the vaccine – there’s certainly a social-networking element to vaccinations! Second, we host live events.

These live events primarily focus on the target zip codes, determined by the City of Dallas. Residents of these target zip codes typically face large barriers from getting the vaccine: a lack of internet access, which prevents individuals from registering for the vaccine online; language and social barriers, which make it harder to access information about the vaccine; and economic barriers, which stop individuals from signing up for their vaccination appointment. At our events, we register individuals and their families to get the vaccine. These events, spearheaded by our Executive Director, Leslie Cannon, and our Event Coordinator, Val McKinney, have registered over 4500 people to date! But, to have these events, we need funding. So, our amazing Sponsorship Director, Cassie Liu, works on securing sponsorships from local businesses. Then, Leah Segle, our Chair of Creativity, creates beautiful forms to use at our events. Throughout this process, Premanshi Agarwalla, our Strategic Outreach Chair, helps guide our focus to maximize our impact on our community.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It’s certainly been a challenge to create a model of reaching out to the communities that are most vulnerable to COVID. Everything that we’re doing is new; we’re hosting live events in a pandemic world. So, to maximize safety for everyone, event volunteers and vaccine registrants alike, we needed to create a series of COVID protocols: sanitizing clipboards after every use, social distancing, requiring masks. To continue to adapt to the ever-developing vaccine information and areas that we work in, we’ve had to be extremely flexible in our thinking and planning; there are many factors in coordinating events, volunteers, social media pages, and outreach. The strict distancing of our current society also makes it harder to spread awareness of our organization to get sponsors or volunteers for our events.

So, our Sponsorship Director, Cassie Liu, and our Strategic Outreach Chair, Premanshi Agarwalla, have started to secure important partnerships and sponsorships from local businesses; however, due to the volume and size of our events, we always welcome more sponsors and volunteers! Personally, it’s been a steep learning curve for me. As a young woman stepping into an executive role for the first time, I’ve had to quickly learn a plethora of skills, from managing my wonderful team to learning how to create a website. My age also remains an obstacle while talking to community partners. We’ve certainly found a lot of help within the community, but people tend to gravitate towards older forms of authority, so I’ve had to work hard to establish myself as knowledgeable and trustworthy in the community.

We’ve been impressed with Don’t Wait to Vaccinate, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Don’t Wait to Vaccinate aims to register individuals for the vaccine by educating the public about the vaccine and hosting live vaccine registration events. We are currently one of the largest, if not the largest, independent efforts in Dallas aiming to register individuals for the vaccine. I think a couple of things set us apart from the other vaccination efforts: First, we are an independent, not-for-profit organization. This means that we are different from the hospital or governmental systems that are also trying to register individuals for the vaccine.

A lot of underserved individuals or minorities naturally harbor distrust in these established organizations, so with our community connections, we are able to connect with individuals in a more meaningful way. Second, we provide an array of services. We start with vaccination education and continue to help until vaccination. We recently set up a google phone number to provide a way for individuals who we register for the vaccine to follow up with us and receive help if they have not received a text for a vaccination appointment within a month. We also have partners that help individuals without cars get to the vaccination site. Third, we have a mascot. Our mascot, Vax, developed by Lucy Roberts, is a cute blue medical plus sign with a stethoscope around his neck. He resides on our website, but he also makes an appearance on several of our infographics. Vax makes people feel safe: he’s approachable, so the information that he presents is also approachable.

Can you share something surprising about yourself?
We don’t emphasize it on our website, but Don’t Wait to Vaccinate is currently a female-led organization! I think that between attending an all-girl’s school and finding an amazing female Executive Director, we’ve had a lot of success in finding strong women to help lead this effort. We are proud to be empowering individuals (of all genders!) to help the community; from our executive team to the volunteers at each of our events, everyone is so passionate about creating a difference. It’s been remarkable to see the response from the community from our efforts.

We get direct messages on social media asking about the vaccine or informing us that they have received the first dose. And, at our live events, there are countless individuals that don’t realize that they can register for the vaccine; there’s a big misconception that you have to be over 16 to register for the vaccine. But this isn’t necessarily true. In most places, anyone can register for the vaccine, and the vaccination provider will give you a spot when there’s a vaccine available to you. I think that clarifying these common misconceptions is what makes our work so important. Due to the novelty of the vaccines, people rightfully have dozens of questions, so we have the unique ability to help answer some of them. I also think that it is important that our efforts show other young people that they can help resolve this public health crisis and have a substantial impact on their communities.

Contact Info:

  • Email: info@dontwaittovaccinate.com
  • Website: dontwaittovaccinate.com
  • Instagram:dontwaittovaccinate
  • Facebook: dontwaittovaccinate
  • Twitter: dontwait2vax

Image Credits
minarajphotography

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