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Episode 32: The Vaccine Hunters

Adrian Florez

When 65-year-old Bonnie McGuire was vaccinated earlier this year for COVID-19, a huge weight of worry disappeared in an instant. 

“I felt amazingly serene," she says. "It was a strange feeling. I've never had this experience, and none of us in this country ever have, where this shot will keep you, you know, you will not die on a ventilator alone in a hospital – with this one little jab in your arm. It's startling the simplicity of that." 

Access to COVID vaccines is opening up, especially with the arrival of a third vaccine, this one from Johnson & Johnson. Washington state is finally hitting its goal of delivering at least 45,000 vaccine doses a day.

Even though access is improving, the availability of vaccines in Washington is not yet matching the number of people who are eligible to receive them. 

The system can still feel impossible to navigate for older people who are not as skilled at using the internet, especially if the only screen they have is on a cellphone. Many older people are relying on children and friends to help them secure an appointment. 

This scarcity of vaccines has created a sort-of new, unofficial profession: vaccine hunters. People like McGuire, who have become experts at getting appointments for those who are vulnerable, who cannot navigate the system by themselves.

“The system, as it sits, has a barbed-wire fence around it, saying ‘If you can get in, good luck. Good luck.’ And those of us with wire cutters are getting in. But if you can't afford the wire cutters, you can't get in,” says McGuire.

In this episode, we’ll hear firsthand what it’s like for a daughter to search for an appointment for her mother. We’ll also learn what it’s like to be an official vaccine hunter for hundreds of people you've never met.

Then, once people get one of these coveted spots, we’ll tell you about some of the unforeseen obstacles that can prevent people from getting to where they need to be to get, as McGuire described, “that one little jab in your arm.”


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Jennifer Wing is a Producer for our weekly show, Sound Effect.
Will James reports and produces special projects, including podcasts and series, for KNKX. He created and hosted the Outsiders podcast, chronicling homelessness in Olympia for more than a year, in partnership with The Seattle Times.
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