Forget baseball season—it's find-a-vaccine season in Seattle, and some of us are vying for MVP status. Even with all adult eligibility moved up to April 15, some Seattleites have gameified the search for an early shot, strategizing to pick up leftover doses from vaccine sites or jetting across the state to empty pharmacies.
Though this week opened the floodgates to millions more Washingtonians, including restaurant workers, those that remain in the metaphorical waiting room have grown restless. By Wednesday, a Facebook group titled Seattle Vaccine Hunters had swelled to more than 15,000 members; an ever-updating Google document of leads is pinned to the top.
Users share word of clinics that can't fill their appointment slots and are willing to vaccinate anyone; Seattleites talk of driving to Auburn or even Yakima to pharmacies with more supply than demand. Others share access to volunteer gigs at vaccine sites, where a shift of checking in patients or shuttling paperwork is often rewarded with advance doses.
As more vaccine sites have opened, including the largest civilian-led site in the country at Lumen Field, leftover doses accumulate every day. Tricky storage requirements for both two-dose vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech) means opened vials can't carry over to the next day. At spots run by the Seattle Police Department, like one in Rainier Beach, hopeful Seattleites line up at the end of the day; leftovers go to the oldest comers first, leaving dozens empty-handed (well, empty-armed) every day.
As other states open eligibility to all adults, it's easy to get wrapped up in the desperate search for some of that sweet mRNA. I'm not immune; when I heard of leftover lines I got excited about ending my own interminable wait. My own self-made rules of the game: Don't lie, even though many sites operate on an honor system for eligibility. And don't take a dose that could reasonably go to a more vulnerable population.
One false start soon followed—a link to appointments at a Snohomish County site supposedly open to anyone, which turned out to be a mistake. Then, word of a very early morning waitlist line for vaccine remainders. As a veteran of famed Duke basketball campouts (weeks in a tent for a seat in the student section, it's a whole thing), a few hours on the floor of an office building hallway was a breeze. Later that day, I scored an inoculation that would otherwise have been tossed out—though within two days that clinic had switched up its waitlist procedures.
Is the scramble worth it for a few weeks of advanced immunity? Maybe not; experts tell us that even the vaccinated (and especially the not-fully-dosed) should still embrace social distancing and mask mode in some settings. And city dwellers driving hours to rural sections of the state to obtain a limited resource is ethically dicey—not to mention a logistic problem when those travelers need their second dose.
But the massive Seattle Vaccine Hunters group has also connected tech-savvy locals with people who struggle to find an appointment even while eligible; the Facebook group feed is serving as a kind of real-time FAQ about the system. As cases rise across King County and the entire state, most experts agree that increasing vaccination counts is a good thing. No doubt this strange vaccine scramble will be one more bizarre aspect of the pandemic we'll soon simply remember with bemusement.