By Team

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Even as more COVID vaccination sites open around South Florida, people are running into trouble trying to get an appointment. Now, a group known as the “Night Owls” is stepping up to help.

“Every time we could sign up at Publix, every time we could sign up at CVS or Walgreens or Walmart, I went to every site, every time I could not get past even the first page,” said Nancy Banks of Cape Coral.

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Like so many in South Florida, frustration has set in as folks try to sign up for COVID vaccination appointments only to find full schedules.

Banks has seen pandemic hostility play out in real life.

“I was in the grocery store yesterday and a fight broke out in the checkout line. Some guy with no mask was in line, who doesn’t believe in COVID, and there was a little old man in front of him was afraid of him and wanted him to back up and he wouldn’t back up and so our world has come to that,” she said.

So a friend told Banks about a Facebook page where “Night Owls,” a group of 15 volunteers, would spend their nights searching for open COVID vaccine appointments.

“She told me to give her a parameter of how far I would want to drive. So I told her how far, and she got us scheduled. And it’s literally not even a mile from my house,” said Banks, who’ll get her first shot on Thursday.

Enter Theresa Moody, a science teacher who’s taking time off to parent her kids.

She was looking for a vaccine shot for her mother-in-law late at night. That’s when found others who were doing the same on social media.

“Puts the kids to bed and stay up late in the night. I noticed there were a number of other people on this Facebook page late at night saying, ‘Hey, I have this availability in this town,’” she said.

Moody started the Night Owls Facebook group on Feb. 26. Since then, she’s has found inoculations for just under 1,000 people.

Her crew of sleepless sleuths find open appointment not just in South Florida – but the entire Southeast region, including Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

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“We’re averaging between 20 and 50 a day. Just depends on the need we have,” she said.

The Night Owls have streamed lined the search process.

They’ve figured out how to manipulate the system, which everyone else seems to struggle with.

They too find overbooked appointments. But they also find appointments here and there at FEMA-funded and state-run sites, even retail venues.

“We’re really well equipped in making appointments very quickly. We know some tricks that opens more than one window,” Moody said. “So we can get to a page in booking that will still hold the booking for you and you can go on and do two or three other people.”

The original focus was to help the elderly who might be technologically disadvantaged.

But the Night Owls have opened up solicitations to all ages, still giving preference to state protocol.

And the Night Owls do this out of the goodness of their hearts.

“No, we’re definitely not looking for money. Although, people have tried to send us flowers or gift cards. No, we’re 100% volunteer, 100% free,” Moody said. “We’ll take a thank you card, but the best thank you for us a photo of your smiling face getting your vaccine.”

The Night Owls are looking to team up with another South Florida group called the “South Florida Leftover Vaccine Hunters.”

They hope to open up potential left over vaccines to a broader base looking to be vaccinated.

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But there is a caveat – you have to be willing to jump at the vaccines at a moment’s notice. They could call you the day before, or even the day of, to get our shot at the inoculation site at Hard Rock Stadium. Team