Vax hunters: Two Edmonton women take Alberta's vaccine booking system into their own hands

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Looking to book a vaccine but can’t seem to navigate the system? Two Edmonton women are here to help as they make sure everyone who wants a shot can get one.

Janaya Matheson and Sarah Mackey have spent the past week guiding Albertans through the multitude of avenues available to book vaccine appointments. Posting open slots on social media, supporting people online and answering as many questions as they can, Matheson said they have been flooded with inquiries since they began.

“We’re just a couple of women here who are looking at helping hook people up with appointments, the system is not easy to navigate at all times, people have lots of questions,” said Matheson.

Vax Hunters Alberta mirrors a national initiative that has been posting open appointments slots across Canada. Matheson said she decided to begin a provincial campaign after she noticed most of the attention from Vaccine Hunters Canada was focused on Ontario. She said she found the online booking system difficult to navigate herself when she was trying to help a family member get a slot; then she turned her sights to helping others find spots.

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“It’s only been a week and we really have 2,500 followers on Twitter and countless emails and DM’s and messages of people just looking for help, so it’s been a really great reception and definitely a needed service,” said Matheson

Albertans can currently book their shots online or through 811. They can also book an appointment at participating pharmacies, with locations being listed on the Alberta Blue Cross website.

When the rollout first opened to Alberta’s senior population, there were reports of long waits to book the vaccine as well as long waits outside vaccination centres. AHS has adapted and improved the system with each new phased rollout. The latest roll-outs, Phase 2 C and D, have seen less wait times online as well as walk-in clinics being available.

Matheson gives AHS credit for improving the system but said it would be beneficial if there was a live chat function available for online booking help on top of being able to call 811 to speak with someone directly.

“I think the biggest barrier right now it’s just people don’t understand where to book, there’s a book through a pharmacy, you can call 811, you can book through AHS, they don’t really understand where to go or what the best option is for them in their area,” said Matheson.

AHS spokesman Kerry Williamson said there have been very few issues with the online booking tool in recent weeks.

“In terms of a live chat function, that could be a resource issue. We have a finite number of staff, and obviously our priority right now is on getting shots in arms, as well as testing and contact tracing,” said Williamson in an email Sunday.

Matheson said the best option to get a vaccine varies from region to region. While there may be lots of online AHS appointments in Edmonton, she said Calgarians may have an easier time getting a shot at a pharmacy. Her advice for everyone is to try multiple avenues and if they are running into obstacles, to reach out to AB Vax Hunters.

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