There are Nazi hunters, bounty hunters and vampire hunters, but today the most sought out hunters are vaccine hunters.
Tulane University medical student Brad Johnson recently turned young New Orleans-area citizens into volunteer vaccine hunters when he started NOLA Vaccine Hunters, a Facebook group that has more than 5,000 members. Participants use the group to navigate the websites of pharmacies, grocery stores, hospitals and other sites to connect people to available vaccines.
Johnson’s efforts have been noticed by CNN and others have followed his lead in places like Maryland.
“This is important to me because vaccines are a lifesaver,” Johnson says. “They are our way out of this nightmarish pandemic way of life. It is nothing short of a miracle that the vaccines we have today are as effective as they are. These actions are also such a precious resource, and in no circumstance should we be throwing any away. Due to the cold storage and delicate handling these vaccines require, there are instances when some doses are unclaimed and headed for the trash. In the short time before those doses expire, we must find a way to give those vaccines to anyone. Any arm is better than the trash.”
Eve C. Peyton is one of the local vaccine hunters. She felt like it was important to give back because she was lucky enough to be able to get her 83-year-old father fully vaccinated by early February. In all transparency, she also got her mother fully vaccinated, and as her mother, I am eternally grateful.
“I did it because I was tech-savvy and knew how to work the system, but that shouldn’t be a prerequisite,” she says. “Older people without the same skills or family resources should still be able to get vaccinated.”
Peyton says she feels like the computer-based nature of these systems is unfair to older people, who are the most vulnerable to COVID-19 and the most in need of vaccines.
“It almost feels like you’re trying to get concert tickets … except it’s just to not die,” she says. “I want to share whatever skills I have in this area to connect people to vaccines.”
The main intention of the NOLA Vaccine Hunters Facebook group is to crowdsource info about COVID-19 vaccine distribution sites that have leftover, unused doses that are soon to expire, and members of the groups have shared their successes in getting vaccines this way.
Johnson is now working on what he calls a more “organized system” at GetMyJab.com. The site lists all locations in Louisiana offering vaccines.
“Another way to look at this is we are creating a standby system of people who are ready to respond when there are gaps or shortages in the current priority group,” he says. “All efforts should go toward making sure vaccines go to the people they are currently intended for. But at the end of the day, when there are some doses that are unclaimed or unused and only a short time before they expire, anyone should be eligible.”
Since starting her quest, Peyton has helped at least 10 people get vaccinated. She’s also signed up with the city of New Orleans to volunteer to help even more. The city’s site shares the following: “The vaccine is your shot to relieve healthcare workers, protect high-risk individuals, keep your family safe, support local businesses, and help us get back to the New Orleans we love. The New Orleans Health Department is working closely with our federal, state and local partners to ensure that we are ready to distribute the vaccine.”
The city wants to ensure that getting the COVID-19 vaccine is as safe and easy as possible for everyone. This is a link to that site Vaccines – NOLA Ready
“It just breaks my heart to think of older citizens without family to help them navigate the process going unvaccinated,” Peyton says. “I hope it’s my turn soon, but until it is, I am going to keep working to get as many shots in as many arms as I can.”