Marin County Fire Department paramedic Kevin Stone prepares a syringe with the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine at The Tamalpais retirement home in Greenbrae on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
PUBLISHED: March 13, 2021 at 5:00 a.m. | UPDATED: March 14, 2021 at 8:37 a.m.
Some enterprising Californians who aren’t eligible for a coronavirus vaccine yet — we’re looking at you, relatively healthy 16-to-64 year olds — are finding ways to get them anyway. And they’re not lying about being health care workers or dressing up as senior citizens to do it.
In the coming weeks, millions more people will become eligible — including people with certain disabilities and health problems starting Monday. But even then, most Californians will be waiting — perhaps all the way until the May 1 deadline for full eligibility President Biden set on Thursday.
Feeling impatient? Here are a few ways residents of the Golden State who lack priority access are snagging shots now.
Volunteer at a vaccine clinic
California now allows people who volunteer at vaccine clinics to get inoculated if they work a shift of at least four hours. You don’t have to be a medical worker to volunteer, either. Sites need volunteers to help direct people to the right place, help with registration and perform other tasks. You can sign up at myturnvolunteer.ca.gov. Volunteers won’t necessarily get a shot the day they help out but may if supply allows. Each clinic makes its own decisions on vaccinations for volunteers.
Right now, it doesn’t look like there are many — if any — open volunteer slots in the Bay Area. But Emily Matthews, a spokesperson for the state’s volunteer office, said that "as vaccine supplies increase, we anticipate more volunteer slots becoming available. We encourage those who have signed up to check back regularly."
Bay Area counties also offer their own volunteer opportunities. Santa Clara County, for instance, allows people who work three eight-hour shifts to get vaccinated. But the county says it’s currently "at capacity" for volunteers. Contra Costa County has a similar requirement and says that after a pause it will begin accepting new volunteer applications on Monday. Check your county for specifics.
We’re not suggesting you suddenly decide to help out your community just to get a shot, but some counties are allowing certain types of regular volunteers to get inoculated. In San Francisco and San Mateo counties, for instance, people who volunteer to coach youth sports are eligible to receive a vaccine. Marin is also allowing some coaches to get vaccinated.
"Under the banner of education and childcare may also fall staff involved in after-school and youth programs," said Laine Hendricks, a spokesperson for Marin. "That being said, a program would have to vouch for them being on staff. A one-time or ancillary volunteer (I’m a parent and I occasionally help collect the sports equipment at the end of each game) would not make the cut."
In San Mateo County, "anyone who is working with students in person would be allowed to get a vaccination," said Patricia Love, a spokesperson for the county’s Office of Education.
Check with your county for specifics.
Join a standby list
Social media is flooded with reports of people snagging leftover doses, when no-shows bail on precious appointments and vaccine can’t be restocked in ultra-cold storage. Just how accurate all those stories are is difficult to say, and many counties and vaccine providers say that if they do have leftover doses, they call people who are already on the schedule to come in early. But there are still some standby lists and waitlists that certain people can join.
UC San Francisco, for instance, maintains a standby list for employees and students "given the frequent availability of a few remaining COVID vaccine doses at the end of each day." The school requires people to sign up by 3 p.m. for appointments starting a few hours later, around 7 p.m.
Stanford Health Care also has a process for using up any extra doses at the end of the day — although they say people should still meet eligibility requirements.
"This is available at each site to no more than 10 unscheduled individuals who meet the state’s current eligibility criteria and who are available to return within 30 minutes of being contacted at the end of the day to receive a vaccine if extra doses are available," Stanford said in a statement. "We are also working to develop an automated stand-by scheduling process."
Sign up for a vaccine-matching service
A New York-based startup called Dr. B is helping match vaccine providers that have extra doses with people looking for a shot and able to drop everything and go get one quickly. It doesn’t appear many providers are using the service yet, but the New York Times reported recently that hundreds of thousands of people have signed up on the off-chance a provider near them puts out a call for willing vaccine recipients.
Recently, a San Mateo woman said she was able to get a vaccine at a nearby CVS when they had a few extra doses at the end of the day and reached out to her, knowing she was experiencing health challenges that made her vulnerable.
In a statement, a spokesperson for CVS said, "In the event of unused doses in our pharmacies, our pharmacy teams will evaluate how to most efficiently vaccinate eligible individuals with remaining doses. This includes outreaching to eligible patients in their communities, as our pharmacies maintain patient profiles with information that can help identify who is eligible to be vaccinated."
While there are some reports of people hanging out at neighborhood drug stores as the sun sets to score a coveted shot, pharmacies and health officials have urged people not to try that route to get a vaccine.
Emily DeRuy covers the coronavirus pandemic and politics for the Bay Area News Group. Prior to that, she covered housing and the city of San Jose. Earlier in her career she wrote about education for The Atlantic in Washington, D.C.