Ten minutes before 4 p.m., a crowd of a dozen people stood socially distanced in a Rainier Beach parking lot Monday, engaging in several rounds of polite, very 2021-specific chitchat:
Has anyone tried going to the Lumen Field vaccination site?
I heard there were 37 doses left over one day.
I’m 64-and-one-quarter years old.
They hoped an official would soon walk out of the mass-vaccination site and yell out the news to the anxious group: The number of COVID-19 vaccine doses left over from the day’s clinic, available to those who are waiting.
Across Washington state, about 3 million people, including those over 65, health care workers and K-12 educators, are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine — and about 1 in 4 people have received at least one dose, according to state data. Next week, another 2 million people will be eligible.
Meanwhile, people known as “vaccine chasers” or “vaccine hunters,” or just residents who don’t yet qualify for the vaccine or do but aren’t able to find an appointment, gather each day outside vaccination hubs, hoping for news of extra doses. Having waiting arms prevents vaccine waste, officials say, because doses expire within hours after they’re thawed.
But at the Rainier Beach vaccination clinic, held at the Atlantic City Boat Ramp, leftover doses rarely exceed the number of people waiting, and the crowd was growing by the minute. Two minutes before appointments were finished, the number of people waiting reached about 50.
Site operators dole out leftover doses by age — the older you are, the more likely you are to receive a shot. Cheryl Brush, nearly 62, was hopeful. Her mother and younger sister, who lives in a care facility, have both received the vaccine, and Brush wanted to catch up.
“This is where age counts,” said Brush, who lives in South Seattle, eyeing the crowd. “But your odds go down when more people come.”
The Seattle Fire Department has found that the approach of distributing unused doses by age at the Rainier Beach and West Seattle sites worked better to ensure older adults were vaccinated than the previous method of the standby list, city of Seattle spokesperson Kelsey Nyland said. With the standby list, residents could sign up for alerts for leftover doses, but Nyland said the city discovered a lot of people in their 20s were signing up, saying they were over 65.
By 4:22 p.m., more than 150 people stood in parking spots normally reserved for vehicles with boat trailers. One person asked where to go, confused, thinking it was a disorganized line for walk-up coronavirus tests. Another person in his 40s described coming to the site each day last week, with no luck.
At 4:28 p.m., Fire Department Capt. Kyle White walked up to the crowd with a piece of paper and the number of coveted leftover doses of the Moderna vaccine.
“How are you all doing?” he yelled.
“Gooooood,” some of the members of crowd responded, inching toward him.
“I’ve got six extra doses today.”
The crowd let out a collective laugh-groan, and the younger members started walking back to their cars and toward the crosswalk. White explained that they start with the oldest members of the group and work their way down until all six shots are gone. Was there anyone 65 or over in the crowd?
One man raised his hand, and the crowd cheered. He pulled out his ID to confirm his age and was let in.
Five to go. 64?
Several people raised their hands. “OK, hold on,” White said. If there were more than five people, they would need to go by birth month.
Six people came forward — three people born in June, July and September 1956, three born in January 1957.
The three 64-year-olds born in 1956 were let in. The three January 1957 birthdays remained, with just two doses left.
“OK, we’re down to the day,” White said.
Jan. 18, Jan. 24. And the last one?
“You two,” White said, pointing to the first two who were lucky enough to be born eight and two days before the third.
“In another time and place, I would high-five you,” one of the two recipients said to the other.
As everyone else walked away, White encouraged them to try again another day.
“We don’t want doses to go to waste,” he said. “Persistence pays off.”