Brimer created a computer script to monitor 20 different appointment sites that notify him whenever one has changed and may have openings.
“I feel this is a very important thing that needs to get done,” he said. “It frustrates me to no end that it’s this hard for people who really need it the most — those who can’t do this, whether it’s because of technology, resources or time — aren’t getting taken care of.”
Many appointments are located outside the St. Louis region in places like Hannibal, Cuba, Columbia, Salem and Rolla, Brimer said.
He estimates he spends up to three hours a day searching for appointments, each time helping about 10 people get booked along with countless others who see his Facebook posts about openings. He also shares information in private Facebook groups: St. Louis and Eastern Missouri COVID-19 Vaccine Info, which has over 33,000 members, and the much smaller Missouri Vaccine Equity Group, which is focused on helping those who face the most challenges in finding a dose.
People find Brimer and other hunters through word-of-mouth. Those Brimer helps include people scared they may fall prey to email scams or suspicious websites. Others need help figuring out the eligibility rules. Some face more difficult barriers.
Two disabled women, roommates in their 50s, needed appointments close by and within the short time-frame their caretaker worked and could transport them. Brimer said he had to watch sites like a hawk for days.
Without his help, “these people would not have been vaccinated in a timely manner,” he said. “There’s just no way.”
The latest tip shared on social media to beat others to available doses is to change the time zone on your computer or phone, which triggers earlier access to open appointments at Walmart pharmacies.
Those with the skills and technology are increasingly the ones able to book appointments, despite COVID-19 hitting the marginalized the hardest.
“That’s why I feel it’s so important to do this,” Brimer said. “The digital divide is getting worse, and now it’s literally a matter of life and death.”