'Vaccine hunters' searching high and low for leftover doses

As concerns over coronavirus variants rise, so-called "vaccine hunters" in search of excess doses are taking extreme measures to get their shots. 

Vaccine hunters are traveling across county and even state lines to camp out and wait for leftover doses. If vaccine supplies don't increase and barriers persist with scheduling appointments, it could get even more intense.

San Pablo's West County Health Center has been the site of a daily line-up of folks with precious COVID shot appointments that took only a couple of days to arrange. And it was no different on Friday.

"I'm gonna be 70 in June and, one, I want to get out of the house, and two, I just want help to get this all over with," said Kensington resident Paul Vollmer. 

Patrick King of Pittsburg said, "My initial choice would have been Pittsburg or Martinez but they seemed to be filled up. So, the next choice was here."

But later, some folks arrived, hoping that someone's missed appointment or leftover vaccine, would grant them a COVID inoculation. 

A clue for some vaccine hunters has been social media posts from friends or social site where people share success, failures, or rumors. Such posts prompted a San Diego man to take a cross country trip to Flordia for so-called "vaccine tourism." 

"Hang around a CVS or Walgreens at the end of the day. A lot of the vaccines that are being passed up on are being distributed," said vaccine tourist Jon Bailey. 

Florida recently cracked down on vaccine tourism and now requires written proof that patients own a home there or ar live there a few months out of the year. 

Dr. Charles Binkley, director of bioethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, said, "There are ethical frameworks for allocating the vaccine." 

He said vaccines are a simple matter of supply and demand. "People are going to try to game the system however they can to try to move ahead in line," Binkley said. 

Even if some people miss appointments or there are doses leftover, medical ethics would recommend calling eligible people in before the vaccine expired. If no one can make it, pick the most eligible people out of a vaccine hunter line and give it to them. After that,  first-come, first-served is ethical. 

"It's such a precious commodity, you don't want it to go to waste," said Binkley.

When supplies are beefed up, vaccine hunting will go the way of toilet paper shortages.