Hundreds of people have joined a group on Facebook where members share information with one another about where they might be able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in Chicago using leftover doses that presumably would have to be otherwise discarded.
The "Chicago Vaccine Hunters" Facebook group had more than 800 members as of Friday. A description of the group states members "collect & share information about places where people of any age can get vaccinated without restrictions and not at someone else's expense."
Both vaccines currently federally approved for emergency use must be stored in freezing temperatures, with Moderna's vaccine capable of being stored in standard freezer temperatures while Pfizer's requires specially formulated ultra-cold storage to last. Pfizer's vaccine doses can be stored for up to five days in refrigeration temperatures but cannot be refrozen once thawed. Moderna's vaccine can be stored at refrigeration temperatures for up to 30 days.
"Thanks to the peculiarities around the extremely cold storage that the COVID vaccines require, there are occasions when 'spare doses' may go unused & should be made available to anyone including young people. When a distribution site defrosts a tray with 100s of vials, they must use all the doses within 5 days -- before, according to protocol, the remaining doses must be thrown out." the description continues. "So what happens when not enough old folk have shown up to get their jab and the open tray still has precious doses left about to expire that day? Sites should start letting anyone they can find through the door!"
The group encourages members to share details on vaccination sites that may have expiring doses with members who are ready to get their shots at a moment's notice.
Roger Naglewski started the group last week, a spokeswoman said, noting that the group has evolved from sharing leftover vaccine details to posting standby lists, locations with available appointments, best practices and more.
"I know the anxiety firsthand that so many people are feeling right now as they try to secure a vaccine appointment - for themselves and for loved ones,” Naglewski said in a statement. “There’s no one place people can go and see all the vaccine options that are available. We want to be that source for people. At the end of the day, my number one goal is to just help get more needles in arms."
Hunting for leftover vaccine doses is happening all across the country, with thousands of people "chasing the dream of getting a Covid-19 vaccination even though their age, health and profession puts them at the end of the line," NBC News reported Thursday. Many have been using Facebook groups like the one in Chicago, other social media platforms, new websites and word-of-mouth to track leads on potential leftover doses.
Note: For COVID-19, the herd-immunity threshold is estimated to be between 60 and 90 percent. Our analysis considers herd immunity reached at 75% of the population fully vaccinated based on estimates by Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Illinois is currently in Phase 1B of its vaccination rollout, which includes people age 65 years and older as well as "frontline essential workers." Approximately 3.2 million Illinoisans are eligible to get vaccinated in this phase, which Gov. J.B. Pritzker earlier this week announced would expand later this month to include people with "a high-risk medical condition" or comorbidity like cancer, diabetes, obesity and more.
Chicago and Cook County officials said Thursday that they will not join the rest of the state in expanding Phase 1B eligibility due to a still-limited supply. State and local health officials have repeatedly addressed the limited supply of vaccine doses arriving from the federal government, expressing frustration as they continue to ask the public for patience.
Pritzker has on several occasions laid the responsibility for the shortage on the administration of former President Donald Trump. In announcing the expanded eligibility earlier this week, Pritzker said the supply under President Joe Biden, inaugurated last month, has been steadily increasing.
Biden announced Thursday that the U.S. will have enough supply of the COVID-19 vaccines by the end of the summer to inoculate 300 million Americans after securing contractual commitments from Moderna and Pfizer to deliver the 600 million doses by the end of July.
In the meantime, Chicago officials have repeatedly said the city is not wasting any doses of the vaccine.
"I'm thrilled that there is so much demand here," Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said late last month. "We are not wasting any vaccine, we have not wasted any vaccine in Chicago in [Phase] 1A, we will not waste any vaccine going forward."
"We get a lot of questions about, 'Why can't we move faster?' We can move faster as more vaccine gets here," Arwady said, adding, "My main word for you is patience."