My people, the Seattle people: If we are supposed to be good at anything, it is the skill of obediently and patiently waiting in line.
Once again the coronavirus is exposing a different side.
It turns out vaccine line-jumping has become a hushed sort of sport around here, a parkour for the pandemic.
“I’m a volunteer at a vaccine clinic in Seattle, and I guess a third to a half of the line is younger people, under age 40 or 50, and they aren’t health workers,” wrote one reader, about a week ago, asking not to be named because of her low-level position.
That clinic had become known as a place you could scoop up “extra doses” as a walk-in, though it since has tightened up its rules, she relayed.
KUOW found the same thing the other day, after talking to people in line at a different Seattle vaccine clinic.
“Half the people this reporter interviewed were ineligible,” the radio station reported, in a story headlined: “People jump vaccine line in Washington state, as hundreds of thousands can’t get appointments.”
That story said there’s a loophole, which is that the whole vaccine rollout is being done on the honor system.
Combine that with shot scarcity and it was probably inevitable that we’d get a fair dose of vaccine favoritism. It’s either in its crassest form, as with those area hospitals giving VIP shot slots to major donors. Or in the more routine systemic way, in which people skilled at working computers and the system relentlessly hoover up all the benefits.
Bottom line, it’s starting to get a little raw out there. After the city and a grocery workers’ union teamed up to get shots for 400 members of the union, not everyone was feeling charitable about it (even though the workers otherwise were said to meet the state’s eligibility requirements).
“Tens of thousands of us aged 65 and over are spending hours online every damn day trying to find a shot, like something out of the Hunger Games, but a union gets special priority courtesy?” one reader wrote to me. “How does this differ from hospitals handing out vaccines to donors and other people with the right connections?”
It differs because grocery workers are on the virus front lines, for starters. Unions don’t tend to be made up of the rich and powerful.
But the reader does have a point: Could this vaccine system be any more patchwork, haphazard or confusing? It practically begs to be greased with side deals, sometimes out of desperation to just make it work.
It’s not just every state that has crafted its own unique “who goes first” scheme, but many counties and often each vaccination site as well. Example: This week, King County decided there was so little vaccine that it would restrict patients at its mass vaccination sites in Auburn and Kent to ages 75 and over, not the state-mandated 65 and above. Confused patients were turned away.
Meanwhile, the Seattle Indian Health Board announced it’s lowering its vaccination restrictions to include people over age 50, including outside the Native community.
KUOW quoted a public health doctor saying the complications in the system are well-meaning but create confusion, which in turn can create more opportunities for vaccine favoritism. A simple reverse-age order would have worked better, he said.
“The attempt to have equity created more inequity,” he said.
The whole system also appears to be going under more stress. Though the state said at the beginning of last week that it is due to start receiving 16% more vaccine, by the end of the week, some hospitals had been forced to temporarily shut their vaccine clinics because they had run out.
“The Washington state Department of Health notified on Friday, January 29, that Washington state as a whole has received less than 30 percent of the requested allocation from vaccine manufacturers,” Overlake Medical Center messaged its vaccine patients Monday. “Like many other hospitals, we are rescheduling your appointment.”
That’s awkward, coming just a few days after Overlake’s invite-only donor scheme was revealed.
The silver lining to all this jostling is this: Any jab is theoretically a good jab. In the collective sense, we need 175 million bodies vaccinated nationwide to reach herd immunity — or about 3.5 million here in Washington state, according to the COVID modeler Youyang Gu. The virus doesn’t distinguish between the line-jumper and virtuous rule-follower.
But we are human. The vaccine scarcity has made some fertile ground among us for the line-jumpers, the corner-cutters — and the straight-up hucksters.
“Put their name on a plaque, send them a thank-you note, give them tickets to a Mariners game,” one outraged patron said after Providence hospital in Everett had offered special shot access for wealthy VIPs. “But don’t move them to the front of the line in a life-or-death situation.”
We are learning, if we didn’t already know, there is no vaccine for shamelessness.