Regardless of how you feel about the Canadian government’s handling of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, there’s one thing that’s indisputable: some people who truly need the vaccine are still struggling to gain access to it.
That, plus the fact that some vaccine appointment centres across Canada continue to experience moments of surplus, has driven a vigilante group of do-gooder Canadians to develop a platform to address the supply and demand issue.
They’re called Vaccine Hunters Canada, and you bet your ass they’ll help find a vaccine centre for your auntie! And your uncle too!
“We just want to help people,” says Josh Kalpin, a software developer in Toronto who has been working with Vaccine Hunters Canada. He recently found himself acting as the de facto press liaison as the interview requests started pouring in over the last week.
“We wanna stress that we’re an apolitical organization,” he says. “We don’t criticize. We don’t comment. We don’t give opinions on the vaccine rollout itself. We believe that as Canadians, it’s our duty to help each other—and that’s one of our Canadian values. We have a goal of getting the country vaccinated right now and we’re just here to help facilitate it.”
Vaccine Hunter Canada was created by an individual known only as “Andrew,” who, after working to secure vaccinations for his parents and spotting a U.S.-based organization, VaccineHunters.org, that was proactively helping Americans in need of the vaccine link up with those locations in possession of a surplus, decided to create something similar for Canadians.
“The organizer of VaccineHunters.org actually helped Andrew get started,” says Kalpin, “and their website will link to our website, but we’re a completely separate group.”
“The sooner that everyone is vaccinated, the sooner we can get back to normal and be done with this nightmare of a pandemic.”
Today, following a flurry of headlines and social media attention, Vaccine Hunters Canada has a Twitter community of almost 39,000 users and a Discord channel with over 3,000 members. Through those two channels, plus an email address for those not down to download, Kalpin and a team of volunteers (a.k.a. Hunters) help educate Canadians across the country—though admittedly focused in Ontario—on whether they might qualify for a shot, and if so, where to get one.
“You either can keep an eye up for appointments in your area for that ‘higher’ or ‘highest risk,’ which is who’s eligible right now,” says Kalpin. “Or if you log onto our Discord—we have a channel called ‘booking help.’ Basically, you say, ‘I am X years old. I qualify with this medical condition category. These are the first three digits of my postal code,’ and then we have a bunch of people who we call our ‘helpers’ who are there to help find appointment slots and send information and things like that.”
The Discord channel is continually being populated with user-generated announcements and updates on “vaccine hotspots.” On Twitter, users can report and track the same tips by tagging @vaxhunterscan.
“I would encourage every single person who reads this to reach out to their friends, family, their coworkers, their neighbors, their community, and help them get vaccinated,” says Kalpin. “The sooner that everyone is vaccinated, the sooner we can get back to normal and be done with this nightmare of a pandemic. And the way we’re going to get out of it is to help each other.”