The Race for Extra Doses of Vaccine

Regardless of impending universal eligibility, some New Yorkers strive for earlier shots

Maya Wilson, 23, left her apartment at 4 a.m. on Sunday, March 28 to rush to Louis Brandeis High School in Manhattan, where she heard through a friend that those who waited in line could get vaccinated with extra doses of the Moderna mRNA vaccine. For the first three hours of her early morning wait, in the pouring rain, she and a friend were the only people in the extra doses line, although other hopeful New Yorkers joined them around 7:15. 

In the end, it was worth the wait, because Wilson received an extra dose that would’ve gone to waste had she not made herself available to receive it.

Since the rush to vaccinate the United States started on December 14th, some New Yorkers have taken on a race of their own: to get their hands on doses of the vaccine that are left over at a location after those who arrive with appointments get their shot, and thus get vaccinated without “cutting the line,” or stretching the rules of eligibility.

Such an endeavor involves loitering in a Duane Reade, CVS, or Rite-Aid near closing time, waking up at the crack of dawn to wait in an extra doses line, or otherwise just making an effort to be in the right place at the right time. And as New Yorkers inch closer to the end-of-May deadline President Joe Biden set to have enough vaccines available for all Americans, the enthusiasm for extra doses hasn’t waned in the slightest.

Sandro Pozzi, a freelance journalist, who spoke with NY City Lens while waiting in the extra line at Louis Brandeis High School, said he is still frequently waiting in lines for extra doses because the vaccination process takes so long, given the two-shot necessity of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and then the wait for immunity to build.

“It’s not only when you get the first shot. Then there are four weeks,” he said, referring to the Moderna mRNA vaccine. “If I wait two or three weeks for my turn, it means I’m not going to be protected until the end of the summer.” Pozzi, 48, spoke from under the cover of his umbrella outside the high school. Granted, he noted,  therein lies the benefits of Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine. Pozzi’s wait was fruitful, as he received the Moderna vaccine on Sunday.

David Sturek, 50, stood in front of Pozzi in line, clad in a poncho to shield himself from the weather. “The sooner I get vaccinated, the more easily I can do things that would be normal,” said Sturek. He plans to visit his family in the D.C. area once he feels it is safe to do so.

As for whether or not the wait is worth it, Sturek lives near Louis Brandeis High School, so he figured he’d try for an extra dose because it was convenient. Wilson agreed. “I have nothing else to do,” she said, explaining her availability between the hours of 4 a.m. and 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning. “It’s not like I have big plans.” 

Lauren Song, 27, who waited behind Wilson in line at Louis Brandeis High School, said she isn’t confident that she’ll be able to be vaccinated through regular channels soon even when she becomes eligible, which should be just days away, as New York is making all adults over 16 eligible beginning April 6. “I think it’s just going to be really crazy at the beginning because a lot of people are going to be trying to get it,” Song said.

Sites like TurboVax and NYCVaccineList pick up the slack for VaccineFinder.NYC.gov, and make appointments somewhat easier to book, but they still require strategy to book. For example, NY City Lens spoke with New Yorkers who found appointments at 1 a.m., or used Google Chrome extensions to automatically refresh the booking pages in order to score appointments.

Wilson, too, is apprehensive about getting an appointment in a timely matter, especially when all New Yorkers are eligible. “Just because I would be eligible,” she said, “doesn’t mean I would be able to get it.” 

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