Some have likened the process of obtaining a leftover COVID-19 vaccine to flying standby, others to winning the lottery. For Jeremy Warren, a 54-year-old in California, it felt like a different game. "[The healthcare workers] come out with a megaphone and just tell everyone to kind of huddle around," he tells Yahoo Life, describing the scene outside of Petco Park in San Diego last week. "Then they yell, 'Anybody over 80? 79? 78?' It's like a bingo game."
He and his wife, Vered, had been standing outside the stadium for less than two hours on the night of Feb. 4 when they got lucky. "There weren't a lot of really old people, because obviously they can qualify without waiting for the leftovers," Jeffrey says. "So the first person who raised his hand was 68 — everyone cheered for the guy." That night, Petco had a large surplus of doses, so the healthcare workers kept calling out lower ages. "At first it cut off right before my age, but then they said, 'You know, hang tight,'" Jeffrey recalls. "And then they came back and made it down to the early, mid 40s, I think ... it was really a wonderful feeling. We were all happy for each other."
Jeffrey's main motivation for expediting his vaccine was his profession; he's a criminal defense attorney, working with a population that has been hit hard by the virus. Another factor was that Vered, who's 60, is actively caring for her elderly mother. The two were interviewed by local news that night, as a part of a story that was titled "vaccine hunters," but Vered says that the goal was never to cut the line or cheat the system. "I didn't want to [take] somebody's place, but I did want to get it," she tells Yahoo Life. "So I figured, this to me sounded like a fair thing."
Her husband agrees. "The first night we didn't make it we were disappointed, but my wife and I thought, 'It's a good sign that people are showing up to their appointments. They're the most vulnerable people.'" Their decision to try a second night, he says, was a direct result of the U.S.'s messy vaccine distribution plan. "Our country really didn't put itself in a position to be adequately prepared nationally," Jeffrey says. "So people are sort of on their own trying to figure out the best way to protect themselves and their families."
There have been other reports of individuals obtaining leftover vaccines, like two Nashville subway workers who were offered them from a nurse on her way home. But many of these seeem like random, one-off chances — a right place at the right time type of scenario. At Petco Park, the baseball stadium and concert venue where Jeffrey and Vered received theirs, it's a different scenario.
Petco is one of five "vaccination super stations" run by the University of California San Diego — part of a distribution plan that earned the praise of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who visited on Monday. Similar sites are being operated in major cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. These sites vaccinate thousands of people a day, by appointment only, which means that no-shows are inevitable. The excess doses, however, leave the healthcare workers in a sticky spot: either dispose of the unusued vaccines (which, owing to strict temperature requirements, have a short shelf life) or find individuals available to receive them.
Not every state is willing to dole them out.
In a press conference late January, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio expressed concern about vaccination sites in the city attracting people looking for extras. "I don't love the notion of people showing up for a line and having no guarantee you're going to get the vaccine," de Blasio said. "I don't like people being in lines together to begin with." When asked whether New York sites are able to give them out, a press person for the mayor's office directed Yahoo Life to his earlier statements.
USCD is one place that taken a different approach. A spokesperson says the team is making "every effort" to use extra doses instead of wasting them. "Distribution of unused doses are designated to go first to persons next on the state's prioritization list and who are readily available," the spokersperson says. That priority list includes vaccination volunteers, first responders, and a social support agency located near the vaccination site, among others. "Any remaining doses are provided to persons who may be at the Petco site at end of daily operations," the spokesperson added. "They are prioritized based on County of San Diego inclusion criteria, beginning with age, oldest first."
Jeffrey's experience was such a positive one that he sent information about it to a listserv of other criminal defense attorneys in the area; Vered sent it around to friends and other caretakers she knows as well. Now that she's vaccinated, she plans to volunteer at one of the sites to help others get their shots. She says no matter who walks through the door, she will be understanding — and hopes that others will too.
"You don't know why people feel the need to get a shot, really. You don't know what their quarantine year has been like, what their fear and anxiety level is," she says. "So even people who had their doctors fudge a little bit, I don't judge. I don't know what these people are feeling and how they're experiencing lockdown. It's been a tough year for everybody."
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.
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