The Current·Q&A

Vaccine Hunters is winding down. But they'll be back if you need them, says founder

Vaccine Hunters has wound down its social media updates, after helping countless Canadians get a COVID-19 shot. Founder and director Andrew Young says that doesn’t mean their work to vaccinate Canadians is finished.

Group estimates it helped at least 1.2 million people get shots

As the vaccination campaign ramped up, a group of volunteers known as Vaccine Hunters posted social media updates connecting Canadians with appointments in their area. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

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Vaccine Hunters is winding down its social media drive to get people vaccinated, but the group's founder says they're ready to jump back into action if Canadians need help finding booster shots, or if younger people become eligible for the vaccines.

"We are monitoring the news and developments very closely and will become active if needed," said Andrew Young, founder and director of Vaccine Hunters. 

Young and a group of volunteers used social media to post real-time tips on where to find vaccine appointments across Canada, helping people get their shots. Their efforts won high praise in the early days of the vaccination campaign, when low supply and the task of navigating different clinics, age and postal code restrictions left many Canadians confused.

The group sent its final tweet on Aug. 31. They will continue to post updates from their own website as they deem necessary. Almost 84 per cent of eligible Canadians (aged 12+) have now received one dose, while 76.5 per cent are fully vaccinated.

In terms of Canada's total population, those numbers translate into 73 per cent with one dose and almost 67 per cent fully vaccinated. 

Young spoke to The Current guest host Anthony Germain about the work it took to make those numbers a reality. Here is part of their conversation.

When you look back at what Vaccine Hunters has achieved over the past five months, what do you think was the biggest accomplishment? 

I founded Vaccine Hunters Canada back on March 19. And to me, the biggest accomplishment is bringing together a group of strangers across Canada with the single purpose of helping Canadians get vaccinated. And although we had our own lives, families, jobs, we worked together every day over the past five months to protect our neighbours coast to coast to coast.

Along the way, we didn't just find vaccines, we found each other and ourselves.

Do you have a sense of how many people used Vaccine Hunters to get a vaccine? 

If we estimate each of our 400,000 followers at our peak helped three people each, then we've helped at least 1.2 million people. 

This number might be on the low side, because a few of our followers said they helped over 100 people get vaccinated, from following us. 

[There were] many, many tweets thanking you and your team for what you've done. Here's a tweet from a health, education and advocacy platform called missINFORMED:

How do you feel about someone saying Vaccine Hunters has basically helped to transform public health during this pandemic?

It's a great feeling. There is, I guess, a scene from Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, where the kingdom of Gondor lit a series of beacons or signal fires on top of mountains to signal to the land of Rohan for help because they were coming under attack. And by sharing our posts, Canadians helped light millions of these beacons all across Canada, and helped give hope to the country. 

That's a pretty good Tolkienesque metaphor for the pandemic.

Yeah. We found, I think, a very interesting intersection between technology, specifically social media and public health. In terms of numbers, our final tweet was viewed over 2.2 million times and counting.

How important do you think your service was for communities that typically have barriers to vaccination? So people with lower incomes, people who might not have access to a computer — any idea of the kinds of different people that you reached? 

We've tried to reach the vaccine hunter in each household who were able to protect their loved ones, who may not be familiar with technology or have certain language barriers, or they live remotely, and help them book vaccine appointments. 

The remaining people require more creative approaches. They might have mobility challenges, so home visits may be needed. Or they have language barriers, anxiety over needles and other challenges.

I just wonder, as somebody who received his second shot in February, when my immunity is going to run out. What about the delta variant, and where are you guys going to be when I need you? 

We're not completely gone. We're still around, our social media just went inactive on Aug. 31. 

We are monitoring the news and developments very closely and will become active if needed. For example, if kids born before 2009 are eligible to receive their doses, or if boosters are necessary. 

But we believe there is ample supply for everyone, and instead we are pivoting. So our website is the new central place for Canadians to visit.

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Ashley Fraser. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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