It took a couple of hours to set up the spreadsheet, says Whitney Archer.
She’s in charge of tracking vaccination appointments — and attempts to get them — for her extended family. The changing guidelines in Texas, California, New York, Pennsylvania and her home state of Virginia all have implications for her 21 loved ones who need to get vaccinated across the country.
The 36-year-old health librarian in Gainesville, Va., says she revises the color-coded Google Sheet constantly.
“I now have reminders on my calendar to check the links so I don’t forget. I’m the oldest kid, and honestly, I’ve taken this whole year more seriously,” Archer said. “I got the vaccine because of some volunteer work that I do, so I was motivated to make sure everyone else figured it out in some way. It’s not tech issues. It’s legitimately hard to find that information, depending on where you live.”
It’s not lost on her that she is like so many other daughters, sisters and partners who are logging the extra hours of research and work to get this done for their families.
“It’s a societal item added to women’s to-do lists. It’s not like someone asked me to do it, but it was obvious to me — we needed a way to track this,” Archer said.
“It’s on me not because any brother or male relative refused to, but because I don’t think it occurred to them. How else do women run things? We make lists, spreadsheets. We get it done,” she said, noting that she has three brothers and two sisters.
Amid a pandemic and health crisis, women are shouldering even more family responsibilities, on top of the already disproportionate amount of caregiving women take on.
“Women, even in normal times, spend more time helping family members like their parents than do men. Men are more likely to provide financial support. Booking appointments is a form of assistance that is consistent with the other work that women, primarily daughters, but also daughters-in-law do for their parents and in-laws,” said Beth Anne Shelton, the chair of the department of sociology and anthropology at the University of Texas at Arlington.
Just this week, Shelton entered medical information online for her mother’s upcoming doctor’s appointment, which she also booked.
She said it’s similar to the responsibility women take on for their children’s health care.
“The ‘management’ work of unpaid labor falls to women — making appointments and keeping track of when they need to be made,” she said. “I expect that when we look at the data, we will also find that women are doing more of the work of helping elderly parents manage during these times.”
Before the pandemic, an estimated 66 percent of caregivers were women as of 2015, according to the National Center on Caregiving at Family Caregiver Alliance. The same survey found that the average caregiver was a 49-year-old woman with a job outside the home who spent about 20 hours of unpaid time caring for her mother per week. While men are also caregivers, women spent about 50 percent more time on these duties.
Diana Simpson, 39, in Maryland, called the effort to vaccinate her parents similar to having a “part-time job.” Every morning for 30 minutes before she starts work, she checks the state and county websites, as well as guidelines for private hospitals and pharmacies, keeping track of the ever-evolving and often conflicting instructions. She’s doing this with her mother, who is 70 and tech-savvy.
It’s been this way for weeks.
“I don’t know a single man who is doing any of the labor to ensure his parents get vaccinated. I’m sure there are some, but the imbalance seems extremely pronounced to me,” said Simpson, a federal employee.
Charlotte Herscher, a freelance book editor in Saugerties, N.Y., managed to get her parents their appointments at the Javits Center in New York City. She was able to snag the appointments after getting a tip from her former mother-in-law.
“If I hadn't been on the computer for three or four hours that day, they wouldn't have appointments,” she said. Her father had tried for about 10 minutes on his own but was also willing to wait to hear from his doctor about vaccine availability. Her mother has dementia.
This work is not out of the ordinary for Herscher, who has two brothers.
“Even though I’m a single mom with three kids, I have much more involvement with my parents in general. During the pandemic, they’ve been super isolated,” she said. “The daughter ends up being more of a caregiver or more involved. … That’s just the way it is.”