Joshua Kalpin has suddenly become one of the most sought-after resources in Canada for information on how to track down a COVID-19 vaccine appointment. He doesn’t work for the government. He doesn’t work for a hospital nor a public-health unit.
He is a 27-year-old software engineer in Toronto and one of five people who run Vaccine Hunters Canada, a volunteer initiative that helps those eligible for vaccines pinpoint the often elusive information about actually booking an appointment.
The group’s Twitter account, @VaxHuntersCan, has become hugely popular in part because of how confusing many are finding it to navigate the vaccine rollout.
“Overall I don’t have a definitive number of how many people we’ve helped. But it’s got to be in the thousands at this point,” Mr. Kalpin said.
Most of the group’s information is focused on Ontario, where the difficulties of booking a vaccine are acute.
From constantly changing eligibility criteria to byzantine booking systems, the rollout is leaving some people feeling frustrated, angry and downright lost. To help them, good Samaritans such as Mr. Kalpin are chasing down vaccine information and presenting it in one simple, easy-to-understand place.
Launched last month, Vaccine Hunters Canada gathers information from public-health units, hospitals and other sources, including tips it gets through its Twitter account.
“We get so many tips on Twitter,” Mr. Kalpin said.
As the vaccine rollout progresses, more and more people are turning to Vaccine Hunters Canada for help.
When adults living in 114 hot-spot neighbourhoods in Ontario became eligible for the vaccine on Monday, Vaccine Hunters Canada had about 10,000 followers on Twitter. By Thursday, that had grown to nearly 40,000.
Many of those people were likely drawn to the group because of how confusing it was to find information through official channels.
But you won’t find Vaccine Hunters Canada commenting on social media or anywhere else about how things are being done.
“The emphasis is we need to help people. Getting into the muck of politics and putting blame on people or doing anything like that does not help people,” Mr. Kalpin said.
Anna Carey started a similar Twitter account, @Getvaxxedont, out of frustration. There was a vaccine clinic near her home in Toronto but it took a lot of online research to find any information about it.
“I thought about the people who aren’t comfortable online, who don’t have the resources to refresh websites over and over or time to sit on hold waiting for information, and wondered how on earth they were expected to find this extra layer of clinic information that I hadn’t been able to find,” said Ms. Carey, who left her job at a marketing firm to look after her three-year-old daughter during the pandemic.
She pulls information from the Ontario Ministry of Health, public-health units and clinic sites.
Ms. Carey said she is primarily motivated by helping people, although she also has what she called selfish reasons.
“I miss so much about living in the city, and the only way to safely get it back is for most of us to get vaccinated. Every person I can help into an appointment gets us a little bit closer to introducing my daughter to the dinosaurs” at the Royal Ontario Museum, she said.
There are also many community groups across Canada helping people find vaccine appointments and even driving people to them.
A group called Markham Vaccinates, launched by Rev. Nicola Skinner of Grace Anglican Church, and Ray Lai, a software consultant, has so far helped book appointments for more than 2,500 senior citizens in Markham and Stouffville, north of Toronto.
They started the group to help seniors avoid the difficulties of navigating online registration systems, but Mr. Lai said he now often gets phone calls from teachers and others who are at their wits’ end.
“The frustration isn’t just limited to seniors. It’s widespread now,” he said.
Vaccine Hunters Canada has a contributor in Quebec and Mr. Kalpin said the group is looking for volunteers across the country.
The ultimate goal, he said, is to “get things back to normal.”
The way to do that is clear, Mr. Kalpin said.
“We need to help each other to get through all of this,” he said. “Every slot wasted means we’re delaying getting back to normal by another day, another hour, another week. We have to fill the appointments and we have to use the supply we’ve got.”
Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters and editors.