Concerned Citizen

Adventures of an Accidental Vaccine Hunter

From Central Toronto, ON
Central Toronto
M4P

Wed Apr 21 2021

Rhea

My name is Rhea Plosker. I am an engineer (1st career) and social worker (2nd career) and now, a Vaccine Hunter. I help people locate and book their Covid-19 vaccination appointments.

These vaccine hunting stories are real. But not personal. Except for my husband’s story, each of of these stories is a mix of many people and situations and locations in Ontario. Names/details have been changed to preserve confidentiality. If they still seem familiar to you, they should. Stories like these are happening every day in Doug Ford’s Ontario.

Joe is a young accountant working for a firm in downtown Toronto. Joe’s work can be done remotely but his boss believes in face time. Joe commutes 45 minutes each way to work, much of it on a crowded bus. Joe’s boss pushes him to take off his mask in the office. Joe is now ill with Covid-19. He lives at home with his family and helps to support them. They are all worried. Joe’s mom is eligible for AstraZeneca as of April 20 but is too overwhelmed to navigate the multiple pharmacy booking systems. I hope to help her book an appointment this week, that Joe will be ok, and that the family will stay well.

Soma is 72 years old. She is receiving chemotherapy and feeling very weak. Soma received her first Pfizer vaccine with the second scheduled out 16 weeks. The criteria changed, so she became eligible for a second shot after 3-4 weeks. However, many registry systems, including the one Soma used, don’t support rebooking second shots. I called the provincial contact center but they told me they weren’t allowed to discuss second shots. Soma decided we would book another 1st appointment (which the system does allow), then discuss the situation at the vaccination clinic. Her oncologist provided a letter advocating for her. The kind clinic staff luckily provided her second shot that day but Soma experienced days of unnecessary stress, afraid of being turned away.

Alex is 58 and eligible for AstraZeneca. But Alex still has an old red health card, and the pharmacy booking systems don’t accept it. Alex also lives in a vaccine dessert where there are few options and is afraid to take transit due to Covid risks. After multiple phone calls, I found a pharmacy a half hour walk from Alex’s home willing to accept their old health card. After waiting two weeks for that pharmacy to receive their vaccine supply, Alex finally received a first shot.

My vaccine hunting adventure began in February. A colleague working at a GTA hospital, in her 30s and only seeing patients remotely, had just received her second Pfizer dose. At the same time, my 75-year-old husband, Mike, was recovering from lung cancer surgery. I (reasonably) assumed that his vaccination priority would be at least as high as a non-patient facing 30-year-old counsellor. Right? Of course not.

I learned that, in addition to the provincial vaccine booking system, many hospitals and public health units have their own vaccine registries. Each uses slightly different eligibility criteria, and the criteria change frequently, sometimes even daily.

Every morning I checked multiple web sites, hoping to find someone willing to vaccinate a 75-year-old man with cancer. I also started sending notes to anyone I thought might be eligible based on that day’s changing criteria.

Mike received his vaccination March 20 and I’ve continued to help people book vaccine appointments.

I can tell you that Doug Ford is wrong. It is not “very, very simple” to book a vaccine appointment in Ontario. It takes someone like me, with privilege, and time, and computer and internet access, and health literacy, and advocacy skills. Our government needs to do better.

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