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A Series of Fortunate Events: My Experience with the Ever-Changing World of Vaccine Hunter Facebook Groups

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Tulane chapter.

When my grandmother passed away last August due to COVID-19 complications, the only hope I had revolved around the emergence of a life-saving vaccine. I had a sinking feeling that the individualistic nature of the United States would fail in eradicating community transmission like in Australia or New Zealand; the vaccine was the solution. I leapt with joy at the announcement of emergency approval for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, though I knew it would be months before I received those coveted injections. But those first in line like my mother, a teacher’s aide to special education preschoolers, or my roommate’s sister, a teen who deals with neurological issues like epilepsy, would be getting closer to the vaccine waiting room by the minute. Still, my mother drove in dangerous winter storm conditions so she could get the vaccine even earlier to protect those around her. These vaccines are the modern-day Panacea, changing the global economy and public society in just micrograms. 


Despite the ever-increasing demand for these vaccines, many vials go to waste at the end of the day as people run late stuck in traffic or mindlessly forget to put their vaccine appointment on their calendars. Yet the system to allocate these doses is haphazard and unorganized. What one local pharmacy may do to assign these “leftover” doses may differ completely from the national policy of a large chain like Walmart or CVS. Do you call up the next eligible patient, maybe one who had an appointment two weeks from now? Or do you turn to the infamous “waste list”, a collection of names and numbers of people not eligible in the current tier of distribution but desperate for a vaccine? Do you limit your list to people within the immediate geographic area or do you allow anyone who can make it within 30 minutes to sign up? 


With all of these questions in mind and no clear answers, many turned to Facebook. Yes, Facebook, the beacon of misinformation, for once poses an accessible way to spread the word through the grapevine. Groups, based on geographic region, have been created by those seeking more information about the vaccine. “NOLA Vaccine Hunters” includes approximately 6800 members (as of March 15th) that include a mix of concerned parents, busy healthcare workers, gossiping middle-aged women, and determined college students all searching for a vaccine–or at least a waste list waitlist to add their name onto in hopes of securing a shot. 


“Walmart in New Orleans East has 60 waste doses today. Drive-thru only, no appointment needed,” one post relayed. “I heard that calling Walmart on Wednesdays gives you a better chance than calling on the weekend,” another poster alerted. As eligibility has become much broader than months past, the forum also provides information for inquiring individuals about eligibility requirements and scheduling appointments. 


I, a relatively healthy young adult, joined this group a couple months ago. The group displayed posts of smiling faces behind masks thanking the group for their help in scheduling a vaccine or the occasional “thank you” summary post detailing the location and experience of scheduling a vaccine. Oftentimes, people would post angrily about not being called back by pharmacies or having their appointments cancelled last minute. Many New Orleanians drove to rural parishes as dozens of appointments at local pharmacies went unbooked and open for the taking. I kept the group in my back pocket, relying on the logic of “there are plenty of ‘ineligible’ people on the waste list who need this vaccine more than I do.” My time for the vaccine would eventually come.


However, that logic quickly disintegrated when a couple Mondays ago I received a call from a contact tracer. I had been in close contact with someone who contracted COVID-19. I dropped everything, packed up my belongings, and headed to the Hyatt to quarantine for a week. This was the first time I had ever gotten so close to the illness that turned the world upside down. I felt scared–what if I got it and spread it to others? What if I got so sick I could never fully recover? How will I be able to do school work? I know these are not the same concerns that those who have severe issues have, but I felt truly terrified imagining the worst case scenario. 


When I was released from quarantine (with a negative test!), I turned to “NOLA Vaccine Hunters” for help. I created a spreadsheet filled with names of pharmacies, both local and chain, that I could drive to within the hour. I called, Facebook messaged, and left voicemails at dozens of pharmacies. The goal of the vaccine is herd immunity, and a dose of the vaccine is doing better by going into my arm rather than into the trash. 


Last Wednesday afternoon, I was lying in bed watching TV after a long day at school and work. Thirty-six hours had passed since I reached out to my list of pharmacies. Some had told me that they would put me on a list but it would be unlikely I would ever receive a call from them. Some never returned my voicemails. Some told me their list was full. I felt pessimistic but I understood the intense pressure the healthcare sector was under as demand continued to increase. But on that fateful afternoon, I received a call from a local pharmacy out in Kenner.


“If you can be here before 6PM, you can get the Moderna vaccine.”

two test tubes in blue holder
Photo by Martin Lopez from Pexels

I immediately said yes, jumped up in search of a bra and shoes. Discombobulated, my roommate had to coach me through double-checking that I had my driver’s license and insurance card in hand. With rush hour traffic, I had a small sliver of time to make it out of Uptown and into Kenner. 


After forty-five minutes of suspenseful start and stop traffic, I pulled into the parking lot. I filled out a couple forms, handed over my insurance card, and sat down behind a green curtain in tense anticipation. I greeted the pharmacy tech who sanitized my arm. Then, I felt the Moderna vaccine enter my muscle. Close to tears, I felt the light at the end of the tunnel grow even brighter.


I now understand why everybody posts that tacky “I got the vaccine!” post, I am guilty of it too. It is a nod toward the future, toward a back to normal when we can gather and strengthen our communities. When we can safely go back into bars, restaurants, churches, and stadiums to celebrate and be joyful. So we can sit by the bedsides of those we love to say goodbye or welcome the newest addition to the family. It is cheesy and cringey and beautiful and life-changing. I am lucky and blessed to know I will soon be protected from the worse effects of this virus that took my grandmother and millions of others around the world. My journey to vaccination was a series of fortunate events with some help from an unlikely source: Facebook.


Hannah Ellis

Tulane '22

Tulane Senior majoring in Latin American Studies and Finance.