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5 tips for getting a COVID vaccine appointment from the ‘Maryland Vaccine Hunters’ group

As Marylanders seek appointments to get vaccinated for COVID-19, the “Maryland Vaccine Hunters” Facebook group has become a helpful resource.

The group, which now has over 28,000 members, is littered with tips and tricks to help those who visit the page get themselves and their loved ones vaccinated, the result of residents feeling they aren’t getting guidance from the state government in navigating a complex, decentralized system. A detailed spreadsheet created by one member is filled with insights on the best times and days to seek an appointment at the various locations offering them throughout the state.

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Here are some of the helpful tips the group has to offer.

1. Each site offers new appointments at different times.

Some residents hunting vaccinations have found themselves refreshing the web pages for various pharmacies and grocery stores over and over throughout the day but still coming away empty-handed.

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Frank Hazzard serves as an administrator for the group, which was created by his son, Elliot. Hazzard said some members have used “open-source analysis” to determine when clinics open up new options and in turn have shared that information with membership.

For example, Monday seems to be the magic day to get an appointment through Safeway and Giant, with the former opening new appointments about 8 a.m. and members finding success with the latter between 6 a.m. and 1 p.m. Users have managed to secure appointments at Rite Aid locations after midnight. The state’s mass vaccination site at Six Flags America has typically released new appointments on Friday mornings.

2. Be ready to navigate multiple levels of the Giant pharmacy site

Giant’s site is unique in that it allows users to change their information after signing up, meaning people can transfer appointments to others if they can’t make it or booked extras when they became available.

To get an appointment in the first place, though, a popular piece of advice is to treat the site like a video game. There are four screens — or levels — users must clear to secure an appointment. The suggestion is to quickly clear each level to advance to the next one, reaching the end and getting a vaccination appointment.

The first level is the “green man” screen, where a figure walks on the screen and serves as the waiting room for the queue. People could be on this screen for half an hour or longer.

Next is the “Enter your ZIP code” screen. If the response is “No appointments within 50 miles,” there’s no moving forward. You can try again later in hopes of a cancellation opening up a spot, but most likely, you’ll have to wait until there are more appointments the next Monday.

If you make it to the next level, you’ll see a calendar. This means Giant has availabilities somewhere in its system. This might say that there are no appointments, but that’s only because other people are overwhelming the system. Then, it becomes “button mashing” time: click a highlighted date repeatedly until times eventually show. Then keep clicking, securing whatever time possibly appears. “Do not think,” the spreadsheet suggests.

When it asks if you want to confirm your appointment, you’ve reached the final step. Once you enter your information, your appointment is set.

3. Call for Six Flags appointments

The Six Flags America mass vaccination site in Bowie has quickly become a go-to destination for those seeking vaccines. But once the appointments are posted online, they’re secured quickly.

Many members of Maryland Vaccine Hunters have had success calling to get a Six Flags appointment, rather than trying to lock one down on the website. Try calling 855-634-6829 (855-MD-GO-VAX).

For those who have experienced trying to get through on the phone for unemployment purposes, this process could be familiar. If you don’t quickly hear hold music, hang up and try again, members say. If you do hear the music, you might be in for a lengthy wait time, but you should speak to a representative eventually. Make sure to have your name, address, date of birth and contact information ready; you’ll need it all to schedule an appointment.

Another benefit to this route: Once you get someone on the phone, you can schedule appointments for multiple people, assuming you have all of their needed info.

4. Sign up for text alerts.

If waiting on hold isn’t for you, and you’re more into the mad rush that follows a mass text message, sign up for MDReady text alerts so you know when mass vaccination sites, such as Six Flags, have new appointments available. Simply text MDReady to 898-211.

Don’t hesitate to check the site yourself, though; the texts sometimes won’t come until the appointments have already been posted for a while, and many might already be scooped up.

In addition to Six Flags, the state is opening a mass vaccination site at the Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium this week. The state plans to soon launch a one-stop web portal to sign up for its mass vaccination sites.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Maryland Vaccine Hunters is growing rapidly, so don’t think you’re alone if you’re struggling to get an appointment.

The group is full of people asking for assistance, advice or simply good vibes as they pursue appointments for themselves and loved ones. There’s also members sharing their success stories, many of which they attribute to the group.

Maryland last week administered its 1 millionth dose of vaccine, and surely more milestones are to come as the state’s supply increases. The page offers several reminders that patience and persistence pay off.

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