Are People Who Receive Vaccine Leftovers Skipping the Line?
Yesterday, a family member of mine received the first dose of the Moderna vaccine at a location in South Los Angeles. On January 18, 2021, Hilda Solis, the chairwoman of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, “directed county health officials to make COVID-19 vaccination appointments available to residents 65 and over.” After she made the announcement, those who were 65 and over scrambled to make an appointment for the vaccine. But appointments were scarce.
Luckily, my relative’s friend informed her of a place in South Los Angeles that was decimating the vaccine without an appointment. She had no idea that certain centers did not require a reservation.
When she arrived, the essential worker asked her if she had an appointment but he didn’t even wait for her to respond. He just said, “yes, we can vaccinate you.” She waited for less than ten minutes and then received the vaccine. Afterward, she felt light-headed (but a hamburger solved that side effect) and localized pain.
The rise of “vaccine chasers”
Meanwhile, for the last week or so I had been hearing about the rise of “vaccine chasers”. Initially, clinics were throwing out vaccines that were set to expire. But then the Los Angeles Department of Public Health informed health care facilities that they should not throw out the vaccine, even if it meant vaccinating individuals who were neither health care professionals nor 65 and above.
Then, a day after my relative had received the vaccination, a few people that I know who were in their 30s and not health care workers told me they had received the vaccine. A few of them had stood for hours in “standby lines”, in anticipation of receiving the vaccine by the end of the day.
Many of the “vaccine chasers” are flocking to clinics in South Los Angeles, an area that is 97% Latino and Black, with a median income of $39,612. But the individuals who are standing in the “standby lines” are white, drive up in fancy cars and after receiving their vaccination, return home to Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Pacific Palisades, or the Hollywood Hills.
According to the Los Angeles Times, “many had all heard about the opportunity through word of mouth in their social and professional networks.” A friend of mine even informed me that her uncle, a fairly wealthy individual, had paid personnel at a clinic to notify him when a batch of vaccines was set to expire. They were notified, and the family was able to receive the vaccine. She said that he liked me and would do the same for me. I politely declined.
So is “vaccine chasing” moral? Is that considered skipping the line?
It’s an ethical quagmire. On one hand, I understand why the County would not want to throw away vaccines that are set to expire. I agree that those vaccines should be placed in the arms of unvaccinated individuals. But does it always have to be wealthy people with inside knowledge who take advantage of the loophole?
There are still health care workers and individuals who are 65 and over who can’t make an appointment. Many of them don’t know or can’t physically wait in standby lines. They also don’t have the financial means to pay off people who can tell them where to go to receive expiring vaccines.
I know of too many elderly people who couldn’t stand for hours even if they tried. Many of them don’t drive, have severe physical limitations, or just don’t know about the standby lines. How do you tell an 80-year-old to stand in line (in the winter) for 6 hours and maybe there will be a vaccine available for them? But a 29-year-old can take that risk.
The Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority (LAHSA) opened all of its winter shelters until January 31, 2020. Wouldn’t it be nice if some of those vaccines that were set to expire were sent to homeless shelters?
It’s clear that the system isn’t working out equitably. I hope that anyone who is 65 years of age (or has family that age) understands that there are younger people who are receiving the vaccine in these standby lines. I hope Los Angeles County finds a way to administer expiring vaccines to the people who need them instead of privileged people who know how to work the system.
And for those who were able to receive the vaccine in standby lines, I hope you realize how fortunate you are. I also hope you do something to help others during the pandemic. And always remember that even though you were vaccinated, there are millions of people out there who are truly entitled to the shot who remain unvaccinated.