Vaccine Hunters take control of appointment search

Vaccine Hunters take control of appointment search

The new vaccination site at M&T stadium in Baltimore. Governor's Office photo

By CALLAN TANSILL-SUDDATH

Frustrated with the slow rollout, many residents are turning to a Facebook group for help in hunting down COVID-19 vaccine appointments

The Maryland Vaccine Hunters group has existed for just over a month but boasts, at publishing, nearly 55,000 members.

Nancy Knuth, 75, lives in Parkton with her 76-year-old husband; the two have been eligible to receive vaccines since the state entered phase 1B on Jan. 18 but were unable to make appointments without assistance.

Knuth said she checked online multiple times a day for nearly three weeks and never managed to book any, but after she joined Maryland Vaccine Hunters, someone procured vaccine appointments for the couple and their daughter, who runs a preschool.

“I tried Walgreens, I tried CVS, I’m on the Baltimore County Registry, I tried Six Flags; I just wasn’t having any success. Then one of the gals offered to help; I gave her my information and within two days, she had appointments for all three of us,” Knuth said.

Elliot Hazzard, a 25-year-old geographic information system technician living in Mount Airy, created the group out of concern over wasted vaccine doses and after noticing frustration about the decentralized nature of the state’s vaccine registration system.

Hazzard read an article about another New Orleans-based group called the Nola Vaccine Hunters — the central goal of which is to help ensure no extra dose is left unused — and decided Maryland could use a similar resource.

The group’s stated intent is purely “to get vaccines in arms,” and it does not outwardly criticize the state’s approach to vaccine distribution, but it has evolved into a pseudo-matchmaking service for people eligible to receive the vaccines, and people willing to help others make appointments.

“The original purpose of my group was to connect people with pharmacies or with vaccination sites that had expiring doses. But the group has kind of evolved into more of a COVID vaccine information clearinghouse,” Hazzard said.

The group has been a game-changer when it comes to scheduling vaccines, and strangers so willing to help one another has instilled in Nicholas Brown a much-needed sense of hope; “it has restored my faith in humanity,” Brown said.

Brown, who lives in Bowie, joined Maryland Vaccine Hunters less than a week ago, and in that time has helped between 10 and 15 people find vaccine appointments; at present, he is assisting someone going through cancer treatment, he told Capital News Service.

But the group’s exploding popularity — an increase of nearly 35,000 members since Feb. 19 — does concern Brown as he worries it will only exaggerate the existing disparities between who can and cannot make vaccine appointments.

If someone has a team of people helping them procure an appointment, they are at a much greater advantage than someone with minimal internet access who does not know about the group.

Hazzard said there have been conversations about the importance of outreach; he and other volunteers encourage members to reach out to people they know who may not have a broadband internet connection or might just not feel comfortable using the internet or social media as a primary means of communication.

Acting Maryland Health Secretary Dennis Schrader announced in late February that the state has plans to open a centralized online portal for pre-registration at the three operational mass vaccine sites: a reversal from what he described as a potential “single point of failure,” during a meeting Feb. 1.

Hazzard, whose group turned him into an unintentional COVID-19 vaccine insider, supports the decision, saying it seems like a “step in the right direction,” but wishes it would go further.

“I just don’t think it goes far enough, I think, in order for things to truly be easy, every single vaccination site in the state of Maryland should schedule appointments through one state-run website,” Hazzard said.

Maryland has administered 1,394,725 first doses as of March 3.

About The Author

Capital News Service

kdenny12@umd.edu

Capital News Service is a student-powered news organization run by the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism. For 26 years, we have provided deeply reported, award-winning coverage of issues of import to Marylanders. With bureaus in College Park, Annapolis and Washington run by professional journalists with decades of experience, we deliver news in multiple formats via partner news organizations, a destination Web site, a nightly on-air television newscast and affiliated social media channels (including Twitter and Facebook). We provide breaking news coverage, in-depth investigative and enterprise journalism, and serve as a laboratory for students to test and develop innovative new methods of reporting and telling stories. By providing a true newsroom experience to our students, we send them into the job market with real-world skills and the ability to shape the future of journalism. Only Merrill’s most motivated students are accepted into the Capital News Service program, and they go on to land internships and jobs at the nation’s finest news organizations: The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, the Associated Press, Politico, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, ProPublica, National Geographic, NBC News, The Dallas Morning News, the Washington City Paper, Washingtonian magazine, Money magazine, the Wall Street Journal and more.

Support Our Work!

We depend on your support. A generous gift in any amount helps us continue to bring you this service.

Poll

What overall grade would you give Gov. Larry Hogan on unemployment, vaccine, and Covid relief issues?

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Facebook

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!