She works all hours of the day and night tracking down her often elusive prey. Her hunting tools include a computer, a phone and a healthy dose of determination.
Her target? COVID-19 vaccine appointments.
Farmington Hills resident and writer Sue Ross has turned into a self-described “vaccine hunter” helping others navigate what she calls the “patchwork system of finding and scheduling vaccine appointments.”
Ross said that when the COVID-19 vaccine first became available to her age group, she and her partner signed up with a local hospital system and waited. Her partner soon received an invitation to schedule an appointment, but she didn’t, even though they were equally eligible.
She said it became clear that it was “an extremely random process.” At one point, she had her name on multiple lists, but still no call.
Eventually, someone posted a note on her local NextDoor site that RiteAid was scheduling vaccine appointments.
“I jumped on it immediately and I was vaccinated the next day,” she said. “That so impressed me and I thought, one person thinking of others reached out and made it possible. So I’m going to magnify that.”
‘Hunger Games and the Wild West’
Inspired by other vaccine hunter Facebook groups, such as Midwest Vaccine Hunters and Detroit Area Vaccine Hunters, Ross researched and compiled her own list of resources and started posting information on her Facebook page. She keeps a spreadsheet of individuals who have reached out for help and has even booked appointments in Ohio for those who were willing to travel.
“It takes persistence and tenacity to become a vaccine hunter,” she said. “Finding an appointment within reasonable driving time that fits within one’s schedule is a highly competitive undertaking. Add to that, the major pharmaceutical providers dole out new openings around midnight or before sunrise.”
Ross said it’s not an undertaking for the faint of heart.
“I always tell people it reminds me of a cross between the Hunger Games and the Wild West. The trick is, if you don’t take advantage of it the moment you see it, it will be gone.”
In Michigan, all residents over the age of 16 will be eligible for a vaccine starting April 5. With the expanded eligibility, Ross said she expects finding appointments to become even more competitive.
“It’s like a bathtub where you splash water for a while then someone pulls the plug and it begins to drain,” she said. “That’s what’s going to happen. The plug will be pulled and everybody will be trying to get those appointments at same time.”
She added, “And while I’m thrilled to see that everyone will be able to get vaccinated who is over the age of 16, there are only about 56 percent of the seniors in our state who have been vaccinated. It’s not that the others don’t wish to be vaccinated. But they are either not technologically adept or don’t have the energy or knowledge about how to proceed. So I’m trying to pick up those people especially and help them.”
Paying it forward
Ross said that people are so grateful when she helps them get an appointment that they will offer services in return, such as washing windows or doing repairs.
“I tell people that’s not why I do this,” she said. “I’m not looking for you to do something for me. What I’m going to ask is to pay it forward…the next time anybody needs help with anything.”
Ross describes helping others during a pandemic as a “show of patriotism – of caring for one another.”
“We’re all in it together and my belief is, if I have the time and ability to help others and I don’t, why am I here?” she said. “This is humanity’s shared challenge, and each of us has a role in preventing the spread of COVID.”
For more information on vaccine resources, visit Ross’s Facebook page. If you need personal assistance in finding an appointment, or you’d like to join her as a vaccine hunter, you can send her a private message through Facebook.