AUSTIN, Texas — While COVID-19 vaccinations are becoming more readily available, that was not the case in January. High-risk individuals in groups 1A and 1B struggled to book appointments.
So, a southeast Austin woman stepped up to lend a virtual hand.
Melissa Graham is the new Google.
"I'm sitting at the computer with my phone and I'm hitting refresh, refresh, refresh on both," Graham said.
Once the coronavirus vaccines became available, this human search engine began familiarizing herself with all the websites: FEMA, Walgreens, CVS and Walmart to name a few.
As a mother of two, the vaccine signified hope after nearly a year of uncertainty.
"Trying to navigate my own emotions, my own feelings, my own fears and anxiety while also being the strong parent and navigating their fears and worries," Graham said. "We saw grandparents usually every other weekend and then that stopped."
Reestablishing that connection between her parents and kids was really important, and so began Graham's mission to find her folks a vaccine.
"So, I started kind of looking for them and just saw how difficult the process was," added Graham. "I really feel like we kind of lucked into those appointments almost. Then, it kind of snowballed from there where I was like, 'Who else can I find an appointment for?'"
Word of Melissa's online skills quickly spread on Facebook. A friend told another friend ... and one-by-one she was booking appointments and receiving heartfelt messages from grateful strangers. Teacher Heather Kiec was one of them.
"I could find vaccine appointments, but they were in Odessa, Midland, Brownsville ... too far away to go back even for a second shot," said Kiec.
Kiec struggled to find a closer appointment for her mom.
"My mom is 72 and her kidneys are in failing health and she has not been able to find a vaccine. She's not tech-savvy at all," Kiec told KVUE.
With a quick call to Graham, Kiec was able to secure an appointment in just two hours and right up the road.
"I just felt like [Graham] had some super-speed internet or magic fingers," said Kiec.
"I think it's more just luck and diligence, I guess. I'm really stubborn, so if I tell you I'm going to help you, I'm going to help you," said Graham.
In the two months or so she's been at it, Graham has helped well over 100 people get vaccinated.
Kiec told KVUE she feels like she can breathe again and not worry so much about her mom.
For her efforts and kindness, KVUE and Charles Maund Toyota awarded Melissa Graham with $1,000. It's worth mentioning Graham finds these coronavirus vaccine appointments in her spare time because she works full-time and also helps her kids with virtual school.
"I'm trying," said Graham. "I really like the idea that if you see a need, you fill a need? And that's just kind of what I saw as people were struggling to get appointments. If I have the capacity to help, then why wouldn't I?"
MORE PEOPLE PAYING IT FORWARD: