For this vaccine chaser, the second time was the charm.
On her first attempt to get a Covid-19 shot last month, 28-year Leah Robson arrived at a Los Angeles city park at 4 a.m., waited all day with hundreds of other hopefuls, and wound up going home without the vaccination.
She tried again the next day at 2:30 a.m. at the Balboa Sports Complex in the Encino neighborhood and found six people already ahead of her in line. But this time, after another all-day wait she got her shot.
“It was worth the wait,” Robson told NBC News. “There were about a hundred shots left over at the end of the day that would have gone to waste if they weren’t used, so just about everybody I was in line with got a shot.”
Best of all, Robson said she’s got a confirmed Feb. 25 appointment to get a second dose of the Moderna vaccination.
“I’m very happy,” she said. “It’s been such a stress relief, just being able to walk around knowing that my chances of getting sick are already reduced. But I’m still being careful while everybody around me is being an idiot.”
There are thousands of people like Robson across the country who are chasing the dream of getting a Covid-19 vaccination even though their age, health and profession (she’s in the film industry, not a front-line health care worker) puts them at the end of the line.
Relying on word-of-mouth, social media and new websites that track potential dumps of leftover doses, vaccine chasers are banking on other people not showing up for their appointments or distribution hitches so they can have a shot at getting vaccinated.
“I’m glad they’re prioritizing older people but if there’s a chance I can get it, it’s totally worth staying in line for all day,” Robson said when NBC News interviewed her the first time last month.
Because the vaccine doses have a shelf life of just five hours once defrosted, they have to be used that same day or they will wind up in the garbage. New websites like vaccinehunter.org and Facebook groups like New Jersey Covid Vaccine Sites and Minneapolis Vaccine Hunters have popped up to assist people looking for leftover doses.
“There’s no downside to what we’re doing here,” vaccinehunter.org website founder Brad Johnson told “NBC Nightly News.” “Any arm is better than the trash.”
The vaccine chasers who are mostly white and well-to do are turning up at community centers that serve mostly minority constituencies, as has happened everywhere from Florida to California. But doctors still say it’s better not to waste the doses — just as long as the vaccine chasers don’t try to cut the line.
“There are times when we have no one here,” Dr. Jerry P. Abraham, who runs the Kedren Community Health Center in South Los Angeles, told The Los Angeles Times. “And there are times when your inventory has to be either put into someone’s arm or discarded, and we refuse to waste a dose.”
Some state and county health departments and even hospitals, all determined not to waste the scarce vaccine doses, have created sign-up sheets where people willing to race over to a vaccination center to get a shot at a moment’s notice can register.
That’s how Martha Crawford, 56, a psychotherapist and cancer survivor in Santa Fe, New Mexico, got her Covid-19 vaccination in a state which is still largely limiting shots to front-line health care workers and people over age 75.
“I just got my NMDOH (New Mexico Department of Health) notification last night and got my first dose of Moderna at my local grocery store pharmacy,” she said in an interview conducted via Twitter.
Crawford said she got a text message from the department of health at 5:37 p.m. Tuesday offering her a 6 p.m. appointment.
“It took me some time to negotiate the website and to understand that I was not being offered various sites, days or times, that this was a first-come, first-served opening about 20 minutes from my house,” she said. “Several other people arrived at the pharmacy when I did. All appeared to have got the same message. And, as far as I could tell, all of them were vaccinated.”
Crawford said she has an incurable “but currently dormant” cancer in her central nervous system.
“So, I was thrilled to have an opportunity to get in, however short the notice,” she said.
In Washington state, Kevin O’Keefe, 65, told “NBC Nightly News” his son tipped him off that there were vaccine doses to be had after seeing a Jan. 29 tweet from the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle that a freezer had malfunctioned and their doses were in danger of being discarded.
O’Keefe said he raced over and got his first shot of Moderna at 2 a.m.
“What are the odds,” a still-amazed O’Keefe said.