Toronto turns to Vaccine Hunter volunteers to help fill spots at city-run clinics

Ontario reports 2,139 new COVID-19 cases as deaths top 4,000-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
Registered pharmacy technician Tamara Rumsey prepares COVID-19 vaccines in Toronto on Dec. 15, 2020. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Toronto is turning to the people behind the Twitter account Vaccine Hunters Canada to help residents find vaccine appointments at city-run clinics. 

At the end of each day, the city will inform the volunteer group where spots remain open for the next day. The Vaccine Hunters account will then tweet the openings out to its 200,000-and-growing followers @VaxHuntersCan.

It’s the first partnership of its kind in Canada, the city said in a statement.

“We are honoured to be joining the City of Toronto’s efforts to get the city vaccinated,” said Vaccine Hunters Canada’s Joshua Kalpin, in a statement.

“We feel an urgent sense of duty to work together so we can protect the most vulnerable and rebuild our communities.”

The group offered its services to the city on a volunteer basis, noting it does not accept donations and has no political, government or business ties.

“It’s a smart partnership and we hope it’s going to help people get shots in their arms,” Coun. Joe Cressy, chair of the Toronto Board of Health, told CBC News.

There are only two clinics that currently have appointments available — Toronto Congress Centre and Cloverdale Mall. The city said it expects more to open up in the coming weeks as the province delivers more doses.

While the vaccine hunters will tweet out openings, residents must still make their appointment through the provincial booking system. Those who are eligible include:

  • All those 60 years of age and older.
  • Pregnant women.
  • Child-care workers in licensed child-care settings.
  • Those 45 years of age and older who live in hot-spot neighbourhoods.
  • Teachers who live or work in hot-spot neighbourhoods.

However, pregnant women, child-care workers and teachers not in the eligible age range must call to book their appointment at 1-833-943-3900, rather than do so online.

Carlos Samuel lined up for a dose at a pop-up clinic at Albion Arena in Scarborough on Wednesday, with help from Vaccine Hunters.

As some of his family members in Colombia are in the ICU with COVID-19, Samuel is eager to get vaccinated, but said he found it challenging to learn his options from the government’s website.

“But if you go on Twitter, (Vaccine Hunters) will help you. They have lots of information and it’s pretty accurate,” he said.

Cressy acknowledged there is an “angst and pressure” people are feeling when trying to navigate the overly complicated system, which could’ve been simplified with a single website and phone number for all eligible residents.

Vaccine Hunters is one way the city is attempting to make it easier and simpler for people to get vaccinated, he said, noting Toronto is already working with hospitals, pharmacies, community agencies and “neighbourhood vaccine ambassadors.

“Do everything, partner with everybody and reduce every barrier. That’s got to be the approach to make this vaccine campaign a success,” said Cressy.

New COVID-19 cases dip in Toronto

For the first time in two-and-a-half weeks, Toronto added less than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday.

The Ministry of Health reported 961 new cases in the city.

The city has administered 1.1 million vaccine doses, with thousands more to be given  at pop-up clinics in postal codes M1L, M3H and M1J.

Most pharmacies will be out of AstraZeneca by the weekend, said Justin Bates, CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association (OPA).

The good news is that eight Toronto pharmacies will begin offering Pfizer vaccines later this week, he said. The pilot program will run for two weeks. The OPA has not yet announced which pharmacies have been selected or if the age eligibility will change.


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