Bay Area county health departments say they plan their distribution of vaccines to minimize leftover doses. But what happens when some remain?
If there’s extra vaccine, state guidelines direct counties to move through the different eligibility tiers in the order they're prioritized.
Still, the bottom line is: "The shots are liquid gold, you don’t want that to go to waste," said Napa County Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Relucio. Meaning, vaccine providers will go outside the tiers if the alternative is dumping doses, which cannot be refrozen once thawed.
Eligibility requirements haven’t stopped so-called “vaccine chasers” from waiting outside clinics, like people trying to score an extra concert ticket.
Relucio says the county doesn't "have people randomly hanging out, mainly because we try to plan ahead based on previous lessons learned."
Napa County changed the way it handles extra doses after somebody who was not in an eligible tier received a vaccine at random.
Relucio says providers now call a wait list of seniors 75 and older to stand by just in case there’s an extra shot available.
Dr. Samir Shah, who heads Contra Costa County's health system, says some people have shown up to get vaccinated uninvited. He says the county is following the rules, although it’s possible a dose could go to someone who’s in a lower priority tier to avoid waste.
"The more people that get vaccinated in the community, the better off we all are," Shah said, asserting that the few exceptions will still contribute to herd immunity.
Solano County, says Health Officer Dr. Bela Matyas, is "kind of off the beaten track enough" that he doubts ineligible people are loitering around clinics, waiting for a stray dose to come their way.
"I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but I'm not aware of it," Matyas said.
He says it's not easy to follow the guidelines perfectly, given the complexity of vaccine distribution.
"I mean, there is this one instruction of 'Don't waste vaccines,' and then there's the other instruction of 'Don't give it to inappropriate people,' and those two do potentially come into conflict," he says.
"To me, it's more important to vaccinate than to not, but politically the opposite is true."
He says some groups that want to move closer to the front of the line in the state's vaccine distribution hierarchy can use anecdotes of ineligible people receiving vaccines "to basically undermine our entire approach."