What Is Vaccine Hunting?

The story of how one local man, who wasn’t quite qualified yet, got vaccinated without cutting the line.

I wasn’t aware of COVID-19 vaccine hunters until I became one.

Like others, I had been getting a bit antsy about gaining access to a vaccine. Many of my friends are vaccinated, some fully. My mom, whom I haven’t seen in more than a year, recently got her second shot of the Moderna vaccine, which overwhelmed me with joy since she’s rarely left her home in Pennsylvania and has battled extreme loneliness (my dad passed away nearly nine years ago) and, no doubt, bouts of depression.

As the vaccine process has picked up steam, I’ve contemplated what it would be like to finally get my dose. Which one will I receive? Will I have symptoms? What emotions will it cause?

If all goes as planned, I know every adult in Wisconsin will become eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in about two months.

Yet, my impatience grew.

I mentioned this to a close friend who informed me that he had been on the hunt for a vaccine. He had called several area pharmacies to see if any of them ever had excess doses. He mostly struck out but then found a couple of pharmacies that informed him that they compiled waiting lists in the event they didn’t use all of their vaccine supply on a given day.

He eagerly signed up and then texted me the contact information.



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I tried reaching out to one of the pharmacies. After more than 30 minutes on hold, I gave up, figuring it was a fruitless effort.

I then called a second location and, after a brief wait, connected with a pharmacy employee who informed me that there was indeed a waiting list for excess vaccine doses. After a brief pause, the employee asked: “So, do you want to be on the list?”

I said I most certainly did but made it perfectly clear that I wasn’t yet eligible to be vaccinated and had absolutely no interest in cutting the line to receive a dose. I was only interested in a vaccine dose that otherwise would have gone to waste.

The employee claimed she understood, took my name and phone number, and said the pharmacy would give me a call if they had extra doses.

I figured that was it. I never expected to hear from the pharmacy again.

A day passed. Then another. Then, early in the evening of the third day, a Saturday, I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize. I didn’t answer, assuming it was spam. A few minutes later, I pulled my phone out and called back the number. My heart raced a bit as I heard a recorded greeting for the pharmacy. I was put on hold for what seemed like an hour (it was maybe five minutes). A pharmacist eventually picked up. After checking his records, he asked if I could make it to the pharmacy, which was about four miles away, within a half hour.

My answer, of course, was a resounding yes.

I raced to the pharmacy. A few other vaccine hunters already had formed a line when I arrived. I paced a bit before finally being summoned. I filled out some paperwork and was told to move to another window where a pharmacist greeted me and told me to have a seat in the waiting area.

A half dozen or so people gathered ahead of me, including a sweet elderly couple who sat patiently as they prepared for their second vaccine doses, which they said would allow them to finally spend time with a great-grandchild and attend some family events.

After getting his shot, the man turned to me and said: “Look, I didn’t even cry.” He didn’t, but I felt tears welling in my eyes as I thought how much the pandemic has changed our lives and how much all of us have missed over the past year, some much more than others.

Others in the queue were a pair of 20-something women, who high-fived after getting their shots, and two men who appeared to be in their 30s.

When I heard my name called, I felt a bit of lump in my throat. I entered a small booth that had been set up just outside the pharmacy counter. A young employee asked me in which arm I’d like to receive the shot – the left, of course, since I’m right-handed. After being informed about possible side effects, I felt the prick of the needle in my upper arm as the Moderna concoction entered my system. I put my shirt back on and then, as instructed, took a seat again in the waiting area for 15 minutes to make sure I didn’t have any immediate reaction to the vaccine.

As I left the store, with the evening sun still shining, I began my short drive home. With the radio blasting, I felt a wave of emotions come over me – relief, joy, a sense of the start of a return to the way life used to be. In all honesty, I also felt twinges of guilt, pretty strong ones, about receiving a vaccine while others far more deserving still await their chance.

I later learned that people without appointments have been lining up outside other pharmacies around the area, hoping to strike vaccine gold, only to be turned away, sometimes day after day.

In my head, I fought to justify my actions, believing that the sooner the majority of people get the vaccine, the better we all are likely to be. I also felt how much of a shame it is that scores of vaccines, due to an imperfect system, have been tossed across the country because there weren’t patients at the ready to receive them.

I feel extremely fortunate that things worked out the way they did. I’m not taking that for granted as I await my second shot. I truly hope that everyone who wants a vaccine gets one, in short order, fully understanding that the waiting is often the hardest part.



Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.