Haymarket’s Cathy Fantozzi Waged COVID-19 Battle One Shot at a Time

Local Hero

By Christine Craddock

By Analiese Kreutzer

Think back to the beginning of this year when COVID-19 vaccines first became available, and people were anxious to get them. Stories soon started circulating about people 65 and older spending hours on the phone trying to make appointments or having difficulty navigating the online registration process. Cathy Fantozzi’s mother was one of them. “She spent weeks going online every day trying to score an appointment,” said Fantozzi. “She was frustrated that the appointments would fill up within seconds, and she was unable to get one.”

 Fantozzi decided to do some research and secured an appointment for her mother at CVS the day the pharmacy chain started making appointments available. Some of her mother’s friends were experiencing the same frustrations, so Fantozzi helped them as well. Seeing a real need, Fantozzi, a Dominion Valley resident, posted to her neighborhood Facebook page that she was available to help people find appointments. She expected a few people to reach out, but she was soon flooded with messages.

 Fantozzi decided to create a Facebook group for her neighborhood called DVCC Vaccine Hunters. “I quickly realized the 65-plus age group was unable to navigate the websites fast enough to secure appointments,” she said. “I would personally go to the sites and book appointments for them.”

She conducted a lot of research, including visiting or calling local pharmacies to find out if they were administering the vaccine. “Gainesville Pharmacy has been amazing,” she said. “Some places announced when they would be releasing new appointment times and others did not. I watched for trends on when they would release appointments, and I would tell people to be ready. There were days when I would have more than 10 tabs open on my computer, refreshing for hours waiting for a release, and I would book appointments for people.” In the first week, she booked more than 150 appointments.

Some people needed a particular manufacturer’s vaccine for medical reasons, so in addition to learning where vaccines were available, Fantozzi found out which vaccine was available at each site. “Many people who originally told me they didn’t need help came back and asked me for help,” she said. “They thought simply registering on the state site was good enough. After months of waiting, they were anxious to get their shot.”

 “Cathy is a great example of a wonderful neighbor and thoughtful person in these trying times, and the whole community and our larger friends and family circles are so thankful for her,” said Katie Devlin, a neighbor of Fantozzi’s.

 Another neighbor, Karen Nazzaro, nominated Fantozzi to receive the Dominion Valley Country Club (DVCC) Giving Plate from Weekender Pastries. She wrote, in part, “Cathy Fantozzi began quietly helping the most medically vulnerable among us get vaccinated against COVID-19. She created a Facebook group with the sole purpose of educating and empowering all of us with the tools we need to get vaccinated once we became eligible. She reliably posts information and new leads every single day. So many of us have received our vaccines because of her, and we’ve been able to use the information she gave us to help others find appointments as well.”

 What started as assisting her neighbors quickly grew to a wider audience. After she helped a Loudoun County teacher secure an appointment, other teachers contacted her. “Many of them were busy teaching classes when appointments were released, so I would book those directly for them,” Fantozzi said. “I would receive phone calls and texts from people that heard about what I was doing. I booked appointments for people in Maryland, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, New York, and Michigan.” She has now booked thousands of appointments.

 A single mom, Fantozzi juggled working from home full time, virtual learning for her four children, aged 9, 14, and 18-year-old twins, and college applications while providing her community with this service.

 “I started helping people because I saw their frustrations, and I wanted to do something. I also know personally how COVID has affected so many people. My sister had a kidney transplant and couldn’t leave her house. If she gets COVID, it could kill her. Our family knows loss, and if I can help even one person get vaccinated to prevent that from happening, that was my mission,” she said.

The losses Fantozzi refers to include her niece, Sara Willis, who passed away from childhood cancer in 2018 at age 18. Her sister-in-law, Angie Willis, started Sara’s Acts of Kindness, a foundation that raises money for childhood cancer patients and cancer research. “Sara was the kindest person I have ever met. She always thought of others over herself. While in her hospital bed in pain, she would still try to help others,” Fantozzi said. “She lit up any room she went into.” Many of the people Fantozzi helped wanted to send her gifts, which she rejected. Instead, she encouraged them to donate to charity, including Sara’s Acts of Kindness.

“I cried along with many people I helped. We would cry when we secured the appointment as well as when the shot actually went into their arm,” said Fantozzi. One woman’s father had passed away the week before, and his dying wish was for his family to get vaccinated. “The stories they would share with me moved me to help more and more people. It was truly life-changing.”

 

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