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Minneapolis Vaccine Hunters helps people find shots

Facebook group focuses on finding spots with extra doses plus helping seniors sign up for appointments at new COVID-19 vaccine sites in the state.

MINNEAPOLIS — On Sunday afternoon, Jan. 31, word began to spread – Children's Hospital in Minneapolis had extra COVID-19 vaccine doses, and they needed eligible people willing to take them before the doses spoiled.

People lined up through the parking ramp and skyways after receiving calls from friends and family passing along the news. 

The reason for the extra doses that day, Children's was hosting a vaccination clinic for health care professionals – home care nurses, dentists and blood bank workers – and turnout was lower than expected. COVID-19 vaccinations must be used within hours of being opened or they have to be thrown away.

Children's vaccinated 1,400 people that day without wasting a dose. Two of those people were Maura Caldwell's parents.

"I was so thankful to the friend who thought to tell me about this opportunity," Maura said.

That inspired Maura to help other Minnesota seniors and teachers who've struggled to get an appointment. She started a Facebook group and became the Minneapolis Vaccine Hunter.

"My page also has organically morphed from extra doses to just helping people navigate the system," Maura said.

When people fail to show up for vaccine appointments and those on waiting lists can't make it on time, doctors and nurses look for people – preferable from eligible groups – to vaccinate rather than throwing good doses away.

RELATED: What to know about Thrifty White's COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Minnesota

Last week, Maura let her Facebook group know the Minneapolis Convention Center community site had extra doses at the end of the night. She went in person to help several people find those extra doses, including Judy Franke, who's 73 with a compromised immune system.

"I'm still in awe of the whole thing," Franke said.

And Ann Carlson's brother Joe, who has Down's Syndrome, got his vaccine at the end of the night after all seniors and teachers were served thanks to Maura.

"We're just so appreciative," Ann said. "She's a stay-at-home mom with three little kids, and she does not have to do this. Our family is very grateful for her help."

As Maura continues updating followers on new vaccine sites opening up and the best times to find appointments, she is receiving back heartfelt messages of thanks.

"There has been posts daily about how this has saved their life," Maura said.

If you haven't joined the Vaccine Hunters group yet, here are some tips from Maura:

  • Sign up for an online account at all the places that offer vaccines to speed up the process of booking an appointment when they open up.
  • Don't be afraid to call pharmacists, because some keep manual wait lists for when others miss appointments.
  • And through your primary care health system, sign up for a "MyChart" and check it often for openings.