Vaccine Hunters Canada: Don't know where to get a COVID-19 shot? 'Inspiring' Canada group is paying the information forward

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians have been told "we're all in this together" and we all must do our part to collectively combat the virus.

That concept of working together to beat COVID-19 is epitomized in a community called Vaccine Hunters Canada, a group of four core members and four contributors who all volunteer their time to alert the public to any available appointments for COVID-19 vaccines.

Joshua Kalpin, based in Ontario, is one of the people running Vaccine Hunters Canada, which includes a Twitter account with more than 103,000 followers, and a Discord platform.

The community was actually started by Kalpin's colleague, Andrew, after he worked to get vaccine appointments for his parents and discovered a similar U.S. site for available COVID-19 vaccination appointments for Americans.

Kalpin's involvement with the community began when the guidelines for the AstraZeneca vaccine distribution were lowered to age 55 and older, opening up eligibility for many of his family members. Kalpin found Vaccine Hunters Canada while trying to get more information on vaccinations and find appointments.

"I joined the community, they helped me book a number of appointments for family members, I then helped a number of other people book appointments for either themselves or their family members, and then I just started posting leads and information I found on Twitter and different things like that," Kalpin said.

"I just wanted to...find a way to help people."

Eventually, Andrew noticed how frequently Kalpin was contributing and asked if he wanted to help run Vaccine Hunters Canada.

'Organic explosion' in the community

For Kalpin, most of his work is done in the evening, but he's still keeping an eye on things when he's taking care of his day job. As time has progressed, more people have started tagging the Vaccine Hunters Canada Twitter account if they find open appointments in their local public heath unit, leading to what Kalpin describes as an "organic explosion" in the growth of this community.

"We help people help others," Kalpin said. "For every person that we've helped, we get stories that they've helped 10, 15, 20 other people, and then when those people have been helped, they're motivated from this positive experience of someone that they trust or that's close to them helping them, and they go and help more people."

"That's kind of how we get this like ballooning effect."

Moving forward, the group is talking about how it can continue to recruit volunteers from different provinces to help provide a broader picture of vaccine appointments available across Canada. Vaccine Hunters Canada would also like to try to automate the alerts for pharmacies or next-day appointments, with people in the community currently working on tools that could detect when a pharmacy has appointments available that day or the next day, with an automated tweet sent out to identify where those are.

Additionally, Kalpin said another area of improvement is to reach individuals who may not have extensive knowledge of or access to technology, and people who would benefit from receiving this information in a language other than English, particularly for individuals in some of the hardest hit areas of the country.

"We're here to just help people find the information that's specific to them and local to them, and we'll keep doing that as long as the job isn't done," Kalpin said. "The job will be done when a majority of Canadians have vaccines in their arms and it's not the point where we're trying to scramble to get appointments."

"As Canadians, this is a really inspiring story and showcases how we can band together as a country for something that will really make a difference in everyone's lives."