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People camped out in line for a COVID-19 vaccine. Octavio Jones/Getty Images
  • With high demand for the coronavirus vaccine, some people are seeking ways to get the shot early.
  • Some who don’t fall in one of the priority groups that’s currently being vaccinated are finding that they can still get a shot by being in the right place at the right time.
  • Experts say your best bet is still to reach out to your physician or local health clinic.

Before two coronavirus vaccines were approved last month for emergency use in the United States, some public health experts worried that many people wouldn’t want to be first in line to get vaccinated.

But now that the vaccines are here, vaccination sites are seeing just the opposite.

“We expected there to be [interest in the vaccine], but we thought it would be sort of slow, evolving interest, where as people grew more comfortable with the idea of being vaccinated and realized that the vaccine is safe, we would see more volume,” said Dr. George Ralls, chief medical officer for Orlando Health, which is helping to vaccinate central Floridians.

“But what we actually saw was the opposite,” he said. “The very first day that the vaccine was available, we had high levels of interest.”

This has led to a different problem for the vaccine rollout: too many people wanting to be vaccinated and not enough doses to go around.

In spite of this early vaccine shortage, some people who don’t fall in one of the priority groups that’s currently being vaccinated are finding that they can still get the shot — simply by being in the right place at the right time.

A law student in Washington, D.C., was shopping at a local supermarket when the pharmacist offered to vaccinate him with the Moderna-NIAID vaccine, NBC News reported last week.

He accepted.

Both the Moderna-NIAID and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are stored frozen. Once they’re thawed, they need to be used within several hours or discarded.

Vaccination sites with unused doses — when someone who booked an appointment doesn’t show, for example — may offer those doses to anyone who’s nearby so they aren’t wasted.

Other people are being more proactive and signing up for a spot at a vaccination clinic even though they aren’t in one of the current priority groups.

The Los Angeles Times reports that some people without medical credentials were going to vaccination clinics for healthcare workers.

In some cases, they were turned away by staff after being asked for documentation that verified that they are healthcare workers. In other cases, they slipped through.

One reason people have been able to jump the vaccine line is because vaccination sites are still getting up to speed with the best way to schedule people and verify that they’re eligible to be vaccinated.

“[One challenge has been] the lack of a good scheduling system that allows us to do verification,” Ralls said. “Everybody’s using their homegrown system to do this.”

Orlando Health adapted the system it uses in its internal influenza clinics for its communitywide coronavirus vaccine program. But even with that program, there are some awkward moments when people try to get vaccinated early.

“Giving the vaccine requires some degree of verification, and some of the things that we’re asking patients are uncomfortable,” Ralls said. “They may feel challenged if we say, ‘Well, we don’t believe that your role in the healthcare environment is patient-facing.’”

Initial vaccine priority groups developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) included healthcare workers, and residents and staff of long-term care facilities.

Next in line were people 75 and older, and frontline essential workers, such as police officers and firefighters.

That still left out many people, including people under 75 and younger people with underlying health conditions that increase their risk of severe COVID-19.

However, the Trump administration recently recommended changes in the vaccine rollout that may open up vaccination to more of these higher-risk groups.

At a press briefing Jan. 12, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar urged states to vaccinate anyone over 65, and anyone under 65 who has a comorbidity that increases their risk of severe COVID-19.

The federal government will also release the millions of doses that it had been holding for the second-dose round of vaccinations.

However, this still might not be enough to compensate for more people being bumped to the front of the line.

“Right now the demand exceeds the supply, even if you just look at the 65 or older group,” Ralls said.

Because of the rough start to the vaccine rollout, there’s very little you can do to get the vaccine early, other than keep your eyes open for opportunities, said William A. Haseltine, PhD, a former professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, and founder of the nonprofit ACCESS Health International.

“Talk to your primary doctor. Talk to your health service. When the vaccine is available from them, see if you can get it,” he said.

Ralls suggests that people who feel they’re at higher risk of severe COVID-19 be proactive in seeking out the vaccine by watching the news or checking their local health department’s website for new vaccination clinics.

“Still, it’s going to require some degree of patience,” Haseltine said.

And exercise that patience while waiting in line for the shot, said Haseltine, who emphasized that “the people giving the vaccines in most of the hospital settings are the same people taking care of COVID-19 patients.”