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'Vaccine hunter' Facebook groups used to connect people with COVID-19 shots

Three Facebook groups have been started in Michigan recently.

After seeing the impact of a Midwest group focused on helping track down COVID-19 vaccine appointments, a group of people launched similar efforts throughout Michigan. 

West Michigan Vaccine Hunters launched about two weeks ago and has over 500 members, some of whom say they have already gotten vaccine appointments thanks to the group. 

At age 64, Karen Dunnam, one of the page's moderators, isn't yet eligible for the vaccine as only people ages 65 and older are able to get the shot in Michigan.

"So I am waiting," said Dunnam, who lives in Grand Rapids. "While I'm waiting, I'm helping other people find their shots."

The West Michigan group is one of three in the state that was modeled after the Midwest Vaccine Hunters group, which has over 4,000 members. 

Each group has intake forms where people can provide their information and how far they are willing to travel for their vaccine. In some cases, people in the groups have been able to make appointments in Ohio. 

The scarcity of appointments is apparent as people post about openings only for them to be filled within minutes. 

"Sometimes someone will cancel an appointment at a certain location of a pharmacy and they'll post something like, 'I'm about to cancel this appointment, if you get on the website you will see it as soon as you refresh the page and you can grab it,'" she said. "Because appointments are hard to find." 

Dunnam, who is retired, and the other moderators dedicate hours a day hoping to help people find a shot. 

"It should be a lot easier than this," Dunnam said. "I'm trying to help make it easier."

The most rewarding posts are those where someone says they've managed to get an appointment, or better yet the vaccine, Dunnam says. It's also been a way to connect with people in the area, during a time of isolation. 

But, she hopes 'vaccine hunter' groups like this don't feel like a necessity for much longer. 

"I hope we're mitigated out of existence soon," she said. "I hope there's no need to have us continue doing this tomorrow."

In Michigan, 2,269,495 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered. 

Of those, a little over half account for people who have received both of the required Pfizer and Moderna doses. 

The first shipments of the newly-approved Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine will be arriving in the state on Wednesday. 

Health officials are hopeful this vaccine will help speed up the rollout as it's a single dose and can be stored in a refrigerator, unlike the other available vaccines. 

This week marks the largest amount of COVID-19 vaccines, over 492,000 doses, coming into the state since the start of the rollout in mid-December. 

The state's goal is to vaccinate 70% of the population ages 16 and older as soon as possible. 

RELATED: How to get registered for the COVID-19 vaccine in West Michigan


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