Mar 18, 2021 - COVID

Charlotte vaccine hunters are scouring the internet for appointments

vaccine, Facebook, COVID-19

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Social media — more specifically hyperlocal social media — has become key to the art of finding a COVID vaccine appointment.

Why it matters: WSOC’s Joe Bruno, whose Twitter feed is a go-to source for news for many Charlotteans, compared the process to “a challenge on the Amazing Race or you’re living through the Hunger Games,” but he and other vaccine hunters are trying to make it easier.

“It is so difficult to find a vaccine appointment and people just don’t have time to constantly be checking websites looking for an open slot,” Bruno tells me. “I have plenty of time; all I do is work.”

The big picture: The Facebook group NC/SC Vaccine Hunters has more than 5,200 members all sharing/seeking COVID vaccine information. Members share everything from information on mass vaccination events, to rural counties with open appointments, to strategies for the best time of day to look for a leftover dose.

Jessica Walters, a former nurse, started the group in February. She was looking for a vaccine for her high-risk daughter. She’s since dedicated her time to help others get appointments as well.

  • “We are a nation of grassroots effort people and when we see problems we instead of complaining about them, we do something about them,” Walters tells me of navigating the vaccine process.

Waste doses are a popular topic in the NC/SC Vaccine group. These are doses that have already been drawn up and must be used by the end of the day or they’ll have to be thrown out.

They’re usually the result of no-show appointments. In some cases pharmacies will give them out to folks who show up looking for a vaccine at the end of the day.

Bank of America stadium, vaccine, COVID, shot
An “I got my COVID-19 vaccine” sticker. Photo: Brianna Crane/Axios

Driving the news: Right now in North Carolina hospital employees working with COVID patients, long-term care facility residents and workers, adults over 65, frontline essential workers, and anyone over 16 with a pre-existing condition is eligible to be vaccinated. These groups cover a large percentage of the state’s adult population. [Go deeper]

  • But: So far demand for vaccines has outpaced supply, which only makes it harder to find an appointment. State officials are optimistic that vaccine shipments will get larger in the coming weeks.

What to watch: While the vaccine hunter groups have been helpful and in some cases necessary to find appointments, their extinction will be a sign that vaccines have become widely available to everyone.

  • “I’m hoping to be put out of business in a couple months,” Walters tells me.

Background: Facebook healthcare groups predate the pandemic.

  • Walters, whose son had a rare type of cancer, said she found a group that helped her better care for him. “I very quickly learned the power of Facebook and the power of social media as it relates to healthcare.”
  • ACT1 Charlotte is a local Facebook group that supports adults with type 1 diabetes.
  • The Charlotte Transgender Healthcare Group, a non-profit that supports trans Charlotteans, also helps connect members with medical resources on its Facebook page.

“Social media really helps groups exactly like ours that are working with populations that would not be getting the information without a more personalized approach the way that social media facilitates,” says Jennifer Ratajczak, The Charlotte Transgender Healthcare Group president.


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