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How to get a COVID-19 vaccine even if you don’t qualify for one yet (without cheating)

A woman dances after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
Laurie Ginsburg of Santa Monica, right, dances with Alma De La Rosa of South Gate, left, and De La Rosa’s daughter Andrea, center, Monday after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine at Kedren Community Health Center in South Los Angeles.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

With more states and counties expanding COVID-19 vaccine access to different groups of people, some Californians are starting to feel left behind.

To date, the state has administered more than 15 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

Current eligible groups include adults 65 and older, healthcare workers, educators, people who are incarcerated or living in homeless shelters, essential workers such as those in the food industry or emergency services, public transit workers and janitors, and residents 16 and older who have disabilities or underlying health conditions.

But for people who do not yet qualify for a vaccine in their area, there are limited options for obtaining a coveted dose. There have been cases of people buying their way into shots, stealing access codes or self-attesting to having an eligible condition they may not have. Officials have decried line-jumping.

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When the first COVID-19 vaccines were cleared for emergency use, nearly all states followed the CDC’s guidance. But since then, they’ve gone their own way.

But there are other ways:

Volunteering

Earlier this month, the state launched a volunteer page on its My Turn website that enables Californians to assist with vaccination efforts in exchange for a chance at a shot. And you don’t have to be a doctor or nurse to take part in the program: Non-medical volunteers can sign up to assist with vaccine registration and administration support or as a site greeter.

Volunteers who complete a shift of four or more hours are eligible for a vaccine, although shots are not guaranteed and are contingent on supply levels at county-run or city-run sites. It’s worth noting that some Angelenos have reported long waiting lists for the program.

Standby lists and leftovers

Another option is to seek out standby lists for leftover doses, which could go to waste if not administered within a certain time frame. Websites like Dr. B are matching people to local providers, who notify them via text message when they have unused supply at the end of the day. Unused doses can become available when people cancel or fail to show up for their appointments.

Similarly, many people are calling local pharmacies or checking in with vaccination clinics at the end of each day to try their luck. While jumping the line can take a critical dose away from someone who urgently needs it, medical ethicists have generally agreed that it’s better for a shot to go into someone’s arm instead of into the trash.

Fontana resident Marla White, 57, said Wednesday she planned to start visiting a local vaccination site around closing time after two of her friends were able to secure doses that way last week. It took them three tries, but they got their shots.

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White said she would be going “every night until it happens” with her fingers crossed. She also has been on the volunteer waiting list since last month.

Some pharmacies and providers are even issuing official policies about leftover doses. CVS spokeswoman Monica Prinzing said the chain’s pharmacy teams will “evaluate how to most efficiently vaccinate eligible individuals with remaining doses” in the event of unused supply, including outreach to eligible patients in their communities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention itself empowered “good faith judgment calls” by its vaccine providers, which enables them to administer excess doses to individuals outside of authorized prioritization groups. Those decisions would not be frowned upon if the doses would “otherwise be wasted due to expiration,” the agency said.

Experts say about most Americans will need to be vaccinated to bring the coronavirus pandemic under control. Track California’s progress toward that goal.

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Crossing county lines

People are also crossing county lines in an attempt to obtain a dose of vaccine, a questionable move that is likely to become more common as different health departments adopt different rules.

While county-run sites are generally limiting vaccines to those who live or work locally — with L.A. County sites even turning people from other counties away — some retail pharmacies and federal sites don’t have such limitations.

Erin Moreno of Simi Valley said she hasn’t considered crossing county lines but acknowledged that the lack of consistency has been frustrating. For example, overweight people with a body mass index over 25 can be vaccinated in San Diego County, but not in neighboring Orange County.

“I had no problem with the most vulnerable people being vaccinated first, especially the front-line workers and elderly,” said Moreno, 51. “But I feel like it should have been opened up to more people faster.”

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Waiting

Gov. Gavin Newsom said last week he believes the state could make vaccines available to everyone by early May, dovetailing with a similar statement made by President Biden.

Still, seeing friends, family and acquaintances receiving their vaccines is creating a growing sense of envy among many Angelenos dutifully waiting for their turn.

“It seems like I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but like a bad dream where one constantly travels in slow motion, I can’t seem to get there,” said Canoga Park resident Dana Hislop, 57. In L.A. County, vaccines are not yet available to people in their 50s without underlying conditions.

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By her best guess, Hislop and her husband, 59, will be eligible for their shots in mid- to late April — although no one has given them an official time frame.

They tried using a website that locates pharmacies with leftover doses, she said, but gave up after a few attempts. They have since resigned themselves to double masking and hand washing while they wait it out.

“Whenever I get frustrated, I just try to remind myself that we have gotten through an entire year of this,” she said. “And in that light, another few weeks isn’t that bad.”


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