By Skyler Spinelli
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
In the early and confusing days of the state’s vaccination efforts against the coronavirus last month, many Marylanders were struggling to get appointments for the shot.
Then along came Elliot Hazzard.
Hazzard recognized the preexisting vaccine shortage at the time coupled with the exhaustion and complications imposed by COVID-19.
Realizing that making an appointment had become an immense challenge and wanting to help people, Hazzard created the Facebook group Maryland Vaccine Hunters to offer tips and tricks for the navigation of various vaccine websites.
Hazzard, 25, a geographic information system technician at BGE, was first inspired by a Feb. 1 CNN article about the NOLA Vaccine Hunters, a similar group based out of New Orleans. He refers to his group as an “information clearing house of the COVID vaccine in the state of Maryland.”
“My group exists to making things easier,” Hazzard said. “I would encourage anyone who’s been struggling to get an appointment to join.”
Maryland Vaccine Hunters is operated entirely by volunteers who have a general idea of when new appointments become available on various website. They can log onto the sites at the appropriate times and secure appointments for individuals in need.
One of those volunteers is Cindy Childs, who joined Maryland Vaccine Hunters as a general member but was connected with Hazzard a few weeks later to join the group’s moderators page.
Childs, who has a doctorate in organizational leadership from Northeastern University, as well as a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Salisbury, noted that when she first joined the group it had only 6,000 to 7,000 members.
As of April 5, the group is at 83,600 members.
Prior to becoming a moderator for the group, Childs had been helping eligible relatives find access to available vaccine doses, which expire and must be thrown away if not used in time.
Childs said that the group has been something she could do in her free time or when her three children who she is at home with went to sleep.
“It was easy for me to help and I really wanted to do it. It was a nice way to give back,” she noted. Childs went on to refer to the recent developments of the page as “bittersweet,” referring to how group members have been able to oftentimes secure vaccine appointments without help.
Ann Smith-Reiser of Columbia was able to secure a vaccine appointment through the Facebook group. Reiser, an environmental scientist, received her first dose of the Moderna vaccine on March 27 at a Giant Pharmacy in Waldorf.
Smith-Reiser is friends with Elliot Hazzard’s father and found out about the group through him.
She noted how she had been “dreading when it would be [her] time” to get vaccinated, as she feared it would be difficult to find an available dose.
She called the site “relatively easy” to navigate and felt it to be a great amenity to Maryland residents looking to find a vaccine. “It may not always be easy,” she stated. “But they made it simple.”
Smith-Reiser noted how she has been “logically worried” about the virus and has personally known people who have been affected. She has taken rational precautions throughout the pandemic, such as not sending her grandson who lives with her and her husband back to in-person learning.
Smith-Reiser now feels “very relieved” post-vaccine. “[It] made me feel really great that I got that level of protection,” she said, although she spoke on her plans to still wear her mask while out in public and follow CDC precautions in an attempt to help protect those who may not be as fortunate.
Both Childs and Hazzard said they were happy with the “overwhelming” response that the group has received from the public.
Childs indicated that the group gives her “faith in humanity” and how there are “a lot of good people out there doing good thing for other people.”
“It’s really selfless,” she said. “I’ve never been part of something like this.”