Get that vaccine hunter energy

💉 How to start a movement

Welcome to At The End Of the Day. I’m Hannah Sung and I write this newsletter for a people-first perspective on the news. 

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After keeping tabs on so much devastation wrought by this pandemic, the highly-anticipated vaccine rollout hasn’t been the panacea/kegger/gum commercial we envisioned a year ago. 1

But if you’re looking for one thing that is working, it’s Vaccine Hunters Canada.

Vaccine Hunters Canada is the powerfully-effective volunteer group that started in Toronto to share information on vaccine availability in the Greater Toronto Area and beyond, especially vaccines doses that might otherwise expire and go to waste.

In Ontario, the vaccine roll-out has been haphazard, with ever-changing guidance on who is eligible and when, changes to recommendations regarding Astra Zeneca (still happy I got it), supply chain issues and above all, the mindboggle of not having a centralized booking system.

Vaccine Hunters Canada was more than necessary and they continue to prove it as they update around the clock. 

Since launching in March, their Twitter has grown to almost 260, 000 followers. They use Discord for people to gather and share information. And most triumphantly, Vaccine Hunters Canada estimates they’ve helped more than 100,000 people connect with shots so far.

Anyone can be a vaccine hunter

Vaccine Hunters Canada is about the energy many of us have been lucky enough to witness in the helpers and go-getters in our own lives. 

“We’re trying to reach out to the vaccine hunter in your family or community group,” volunteer Allie Elwell told me. In other words, the first-borns, the organizers, the tech-savvy, the persistent. Those with time, energy and resources. We’re talking about anyone who has passed on word of mouth or information to help someone get vaccinated.

The founder of Vaccine Hunters Canada is Andrew Young. Allie explained that not wanting to dwell on his own story, or even any personal details, is typical for the founder many are hailing as a pandemic hero. What we do know is that Andrew is a web developer in his 30s and he lives in Toronto. Other than that…?

"He's a bit of a Batman," she says.

When I connect with Andrew online, he has his camera turned off. I start by asking him to tell me about himself. He says, “It’s hard to describe myself.” Pause. “I like cats.” Okay -- shy. Check. 🙃

How it started

The Vaccine Hunters Canada origin story starts with Andrew trying to book an appointment for his parents.

He had five internet tabs open, trying to access a swamped site, while working his phone simultaneously. It took about an hour that day but he got his parents booked. When he took his dad to get his shot, he noticed a little crowd waiting outside the entrance.

“At first I didn't realize why they were there, but they were waiting for any leftover doses,” he told me. 

Andrew began to wonder what would happen to leftover doses without an ad hoc group of people waiting in the wings. Having heard about a group called Vaccine Hunters in the U.S.,2 a group that connected people with doses that would otherwise expire, Andrew bought the domain for vaccinehunters.ca and chose Twitter and Discord for social media because “they’re the most real-time platforms.”

And then he got to work. In the beginning, it was just Andrew. But then he noticed a superuser. 

“He was sharing more updates than me,” Andrew says. This is how he met Josh Kalpin, a software developer in Toronto, who brought two friends along, Sabrina Craig and Jonathan Clodman. The four of them became the directors of Vaccine Hunters Canada.3

As Andrew tries to recount the story of coming together in March, he says, “I’m losing track of time.”

Aren’t we all. 

However, we can’t all say that we doubled-down on our skills to start a movement that has such immediate benefit to people’s lives.

“It’s amazing how large and fast this has grown,” Andrew says. “It still hasn't sunk in yet. Every day, I'm just so thankful for the whole team.”

How it’s going

At any given opportunity, Andrew will talk about the other directors and volunteers. 

“They bring unique skills like social media expertise, political partnerships, pharmacy relationships,” Andrew says. Vaccine Hunters Canada has officially partnered with the city of Toronto, social media site NextDoor and VaxBot, an app for finding vaccines. They work with public health units, hospital networks and provide a private portal for pharmacists to log in and report available doses, prioritizing doses that might otherwise expire. 

What I love about the grassroots explosion of Vaccine Hunters Canada is that it was sparked by Andrew’s use of his specific skills. That energy tapped into the expertise of others, too. What motivates Andrew to do this work?

“Each person that we help to get a vaccine is a life potentially saved. And also, it’s a random act of kindness,” Andrew says.

A history of helping

According to Allie, this isn’t the first time Andrew has used his web developer powers to respond in this way. In 2012, a Toronto family was in the news, pleading for help to find a missing teen. Andrew saw this and immediately built a website to find tips to help bring her home. She was found safe and returned to her family.

If you ask me, it’s an incredible response to a news story but Andrew’s response is predictably humble.

“I’ve always been interested in creating websites.”

When did Andrew feel like what he’d created is kind of a big deal?

“Getting a shout out from Dr. Theresa Tam was pretty big for us,” Andrew says of Canada’s top public health officer. “And being acknowledged by doctors, hospital partners, the city of Toronto. It made us realize we’re making a difference.”

Seeing as how this all started with making appointments for mom and dad, I had to ask what his parents think. Are they proud? 

“Yeah. My dad would tell his friends that he’s Andrew’s dad.”

OMG, Andrew. I can’t even imagine how proud they must be. I’m proud just to have had a cameras-off, random call with you.

Vaccine Hunters is one-hundred-per-cent inspiring and the best part of it all is it’s a grassroots effort that snowballed to include anyone who wants to help themselves, their friends, their families and strangers, too, when it comes to getting past this pandemic.

Love that vaccine hunter energy.

Allie says they look forward to making themselves redundant. But until then, if you want to volunteer with them, they’re always open to that.

It’s been a tough week at times but just writing this for you is a reminder that good things happen.

If you have a vaccine story of your own, join me on Instagram. Always love hearing from you.

Take care out there,

Hannah

✨✨✨ At The End Of the Day is edited by vaccine hunter Ishani Nath ✨✨✨


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Further Reading

What you need to know about AstraZeneca and blood clots, TVO

Eyes Open PSA for Asian Heritage Month. It was an honour to take part in this brilliant grassroots project featuring the poetry of Christopher Tse and produced by my friend Sasha Tong.

‘They’ve mistaken our silence for compliance’: Powerful PSA on anti-Asian racism released, Global News. More on the above project.

What is happening in Sheikh Jarrah? The Supplement newsletter

You can’t pour from an empty cup, My Sweet Dumb Brain. Love this brilliant newsletter and this one in particular really spoke to me.

1

For When It’s Time. Yes, this is a gum ad. I’ve footnoted it just so my reference make sense. Plus, Celine (you’re welcome).

2

VaccineHunter.org, a U.S.-based website for finding soon-to-expire vaccine doses