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As 'vaccine chasers' seek leftover COVID-19 shots, Washington health officials urge patience

Officials call for patience as Washington 'vaccine chasers' have been showing up at COVID-19 vaccine clinics hoping to get an unused dose at the end of the day.

DUPONT, Wash. — As millions become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in a few days, some Washingtonians have said they’re impressed with how fast the rollout is moving.

But for a few, it’s not moving fast enough. Some "vaccine chasers" have been showing up outside vaccine clinics and distribution sites to try and claim unused doses of the vaccine if they’re available.

Without an appointment, getting a shot isn’t a guarantee. But the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines quickly expire when the bottles are opened, and the vaccine must be thrown away if not used within several hours of opening.

With this in mind, some people show up to the clinics without qualifying under the state's current guidelines, hoping that health officials won't want those extra vaccine doses to go to waste.

While officials are happy that people want to get vaccinated, crowding at the vaccine clinics can become a problem.

“The biggest issue is site safety,” said Mike Halliday of Pierce County Emergency Management. “People who are here working and volunteering at the site, it’s a safety issue for them, it’s a safety issue for people with appointments, our standby lists, and it’s a safety issue for the folks coming without an appointment. Having this extra group show up can be a safety issue, because now we have to manage this extra group of people.”

While other states have wider pools of eligibility, officials in Pierce County want to make sure that those who need the vaccine most are served.

“The priority is to get as much vaccine as we have available into the arms of folks across our county, we’re also focused on doing this in a very equitable way to make sure that there are no folks that are left behind, ” said Natasha Holbert, Deputy Director of Immunizations for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

In the meantime, officials are assuring people that their turn is coming, and more vaccine is on the way.

“We’re seeing that the state is allowing more people and groups to be allowed into the Phase Finder system earlier because the state is getting the vaccine out to more people,” Halliday said. “We understand that there’s a lot of interest in getting vaccinated, but we’re also asking people to please be patient and wait for their turn.”

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