Ten minutes to 4 p.m. on Monday, a dozen people stood in a parking lot in Rainier Beach, socially distant, engaging in several rounds of polite, very 2021-specific conversation:
Has anyone tried going to the Lumen Field vaccination site?
I heard there were 37 cans left in one day.
I am 64 and a quarter years old.
They hoped an officer would soon leave the mass vaccination site and give the concerned group the news: the number of COVID-19 vaccine doses left from the day clinic and available to those waiting.
Across Washington state, about 3 million people, including those over 65, healthcare 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 the state . Another 2 million people will be eligible next week.
Meanwhile, people known as “vaccine hunters” or “vaccine hunters”, or just local residents who have not yet qualified for the vaccine or cannot find an appointment, gather in front of vaccination centers every day hoping for news of additional doses. Waiting arms prevent vaccine waste, officials say, as the doses expire within hours of thawing.
But at the Rainier Beach Vaccination Clinic held at the Atlantic City Boat Ramp, the remaining doses rarely exceed the number of people waiting, and the crowd grew by the minute. Two minutes before the end of the appointments, the number of people waiting reached around 50.
Site operators hand out leftover cans based on age – the older you are, the more likely you are to get a shot. Cheryl Brush, almost 62, was hopeful. Her mother and younger sister, who lives in a care facility, both received the vaccine, and Brush wanted to catch up.
“Age matters here,” said Brush, who lives in South Seattle and looked at the crowd. “But your chances decrease when more people come.”
The Seattle Fire Department found that the approach of distributing unused doses by age at the Rainier Beach and West Seattle locations worked better to ensure older adults were vaccinated than the previous standby list method, Kelsey said Nyland, spokesman for the city of Seattle. The standby list allowed residents to sign up for warnings for leftover cans, but Nyland said the city found many people in their twenties signing up and saying they were over 65 years old.
At 4:22 p.m., more than 150 people were standing in parking spaces normally reserved for vehicles with boat trailers. One person asked in confusion where to go and thought it was a disorganized line for walk-up coronavirus testing. Another person in their forties described coming to the site every day last week with no luck.
At 4:28 p.m., Captain Kyle White walked up to the crowd with a piece of paper and the number of coveted doses of the Moderna vaccine.
“How are you all doing?” he cried.
“Gooooood,” replied some of the crowd, walking towards him.
“I have six extra doses today.”
The crowd gave a collective laugh and the younger members walked back to their cars and to the zebra crossing. 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 someone 65 or older in the crowd?
A man raised his hand and the crowd cheered. He pulled out his ID to confirm his age and was let in.
Five more. 64?
Several people raised their hands. “OK, wait,” said White. If there were more than five people, they would have to go until the month of birth.
Six people signed up – three people born in June, July, and September 1956, three people born in January 1957.
The three 64-year-olds born in 1956 were admitted. The three birthdays in January 1957 were left with only two cans.
“OK, we got the day,” said White.
January 18th, January 24th. And the last one?
“You two,” said White, pointing to the first two who were lucky enough to be born eight and two days before the third.
“At another time and place I would give you five,” one of the two recipients said to the other.
When everyone else left, White encouraged them to try again another day.
“We don’t want cans to be wasted,” he said. “Perseverance pays off.”