Local 'vaccine hunters' work to make sure no vaccine goes unused

While most people will be eligible for a Covid-19 vaccination soon, in the meantime some people are finding a way to get the vaccine even if they aren’t yet eligible. And no, they’re not breaking any rules.

It was quite a sight: hundreds of people of all ages huddled up in line around midnight, praying they might get the vaccine after a freezer malfunction at a Seattle hospital in January. The incident led many to realize that occasionally, there will be vaccines that have to be used by a certain time, and even if you don’t have an appointment or aren’t eligible, you might just be lucky enough to get a shot.

"Our goal is to make sure none of the vaccines go to waste," says Seattle Fire Captain Brian Wallace, the department’s Covid-19 testing and vaccination coordinator.

While what happened in January is very rare, vaccine sites like the one at Rainier Beach in Seattle have found that sometimes people with appointments don’t show up, leaving extra doses.

"At 4:30 each day we've concluded our appointments and we know how many extra doses we have," says Captain Wallace.

By this time, a large crowd of self-proclaimed "vaccine hunters" has gathered in the parking lot, hoping they might get a leftover shot.

"At that point we take the oldest people in the crowd and work our way down until we've run out of doses."

Wallace says it’s unlikely anyone under 60 will get an extra vaccine with such low supply.

On average, Wallace says the Rainier location has a crowd of 75 hopefuls, but there are usually only 1 to 4 leftover vaccines.

"I’m just a bit antsy to get mine so I can start transitioning to life the way it was pre-pandemic," says Katie Cornejo, who showed up to the Rainier location hoping she might get lucky.

She says people at the site told her she showed up too late, so she plans to try again this week.

RELATED: Washingtonians 16 and up to be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccine by May 1, state says

"I don’t want to take away a vaccine from somebody who needs it or who’s eligible before I am and might need it more, but if there happens to be some that might expire then I’m happy to take one," says Cornejo.

"It’s about avoiding wasting or throwing vaccines out, and it’s not at all about jumping the queue," says Skanda Bhargave.

Bhargave is a member of the "Seattle Vaccine Hunters" Facebook page. The point of the page to make sure no leftover vaccines go unused. Members use a large spreadsheet to keep track of which Washington pharmacies have a waitlist for this specific reason.

Bhargave says he’s noticed many new members who are much closer in age to eligibility than he is, so he and many other members have shifted their efforts to help those people find an extra vaccine rather than one for themselves.

"Not everyone can be a frontline hero but some people can be in the backseat and still help the community as a whole."

Health officials say getting a leftover shot shouldn’t be anyone’s primary vaccine plan. Also keep in mind, not all vaccine clinics welcome a crowd of hopefuls such as in Rainier Beach.

In Pierce County, health officials say anyone who shows up to any site without an appointment and who isn’t eligible will be asked to leave.

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