At a recent virtual gathering of parents and faculty at my children’s school, one parent who is a teacher and therefore eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine mentioned that she got her first Pfizer shot at a local pharmacy, and when she asked about a leftover dose that could be given to her husband rather than thrown away, her husband got lucky. The rest of us parents eagerly took down the drug store’s information and called about leftover doses after the meeting. Better for the vaccines to be dispensed than thrown into the trash, was our logic. But the pharmacist, perhaps tired of being hounded about extra doses, informed us they would no longer give them out to those who weren’t currently eligible.
It’s the vaccine Hunger Games. Or, as the creator of the Minneapolis Vaccine Hunter Facebook group told the New York Times, “It’s like buying Bruce Springsteen tickets.”
In the private Los Angeles Vaccine Hunter Facebook group in which I lurked for a few days, both as a bona fide member and as a journalist, I observed Southern Californians sharing tips about how to obtain leftover doses at Kedren Community Health Center in South Los Angeles, a private clinic serving a vulnerable community. Vaccine hunters reminded one another to be polite and considerate to the community they obviously did not hail from, and some even said they made a donation after getting their shots. Obtaining leftover doses requires standing in a separate line, sometimes for hours, with no guarantee of getting a vaccine. Many fear being judged.
There is shame and blame all around. There are accusations that those who are privileged are cutting ahead of others. There is disappointment and unfairness. In January, journalists like me were included in an early “tier” of eligibility in California, classified as essential workers under “Communications and IT.” As a daily television and radio show host, I am required to come into contact with at least one staff member daily. News reporting cannot stop. And yet by February, the eligibility had disappeared as Los Angeles County reconfigured its eligibility tiers.
In the meantime, my husband, a work-from-home scientist, is classified as an “educator” because he is employed by a university. Although in-person classes will not resume until the fall on many campuses, he and others like him are eligible to get the vaccine now simply because county authorities decided so. As one vaccine hunter asked on Facebook, why are we “letting the government dictate who gets to live or die, and labeling who is essential and who is not essential to society”? ….