7 Ways to Get the Covid-19 Vaccine Early
Yes, you can sign up to receive a leftover Covid-19 vaccine. Here's how to improve your chances of vaccination and help make sure no vaccines go to waste.
The arrival of the Covid-19 vaccine
The Covid-19 vaccines are finally here—for some.
One of the biggest hurdles has been getting people the vaccination in a timely matter and not letting extra doses expire unused, which is a real concern given the fragile nature of some of the vaccines. Now there’s a solution: Apps that can notify you of leftover vaccines nearby, even if you’re not yet eligible for the shot.
The vaccine’s speedy development means the world is one step closer to returning to some semblance of normal life. The key is establishing herd immunity—the point at which enough people are immune to the disease to stop its uncontrolled spread through the community—through mass vaccination.
Now that the vaccines exist, the next hurdle has been distribution. As of this writing, the United States has administered more than 93 million doses. That means about 18.4 percent of the total population is vaccinated, according to federal data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Although the CDC released guidelines for who should get vaccinated first, each state is ultimately in charge of vaccine distribution and eligibility—and sometimes providers are left with extra covid vaccine doses and not enough patients. That’s where the standby lists for leftover Covid-19 vaccines come in—and here’s how you might be able to get one.
Vaccine shelf lives
First, it’s important to note that vaccines don’t have an indefinite shelf life. That’s why vaccine clinics need to use them or lose them. (These are the other things your doctor wishes you knew about vaccines.)
Here’s the shelf life for each of the current Covid-19 vaccines:
Pfizer: Once thawed, Pfizer’s vaccine vials can’t be re-frozen, according to the company’s website. The vaccine storage in the refrigerator is only possible for five days. Ultra-low-temperature freezers, which are commercially available, can extend shelf life for up to six months. The Pfizer thermal shippers, in which doses arrive, can be temporary storage units by refilling them with dry ice every five days for up to 30 days of storage.
Moderna: The Moderna vaccine should remain stable at standard refrigerator temperatures for 30 days, up from the previous estimate of seven days, per Moderna’s website. For shipping and longer-term storage, Moderna expects that vaccine will be maintained at -4° F, equal to most home or medical freezer temperatures, for up to six months. Once the vaccine is out of the refrigerator, it can be kept at room temperature for up to 12 hours. It cannot be re-frozen.
Johnson & Johnson: The vaccine from Johnson & Johnson is estimated to remain stable for two years at -4° F and a maximum of three months at routine refrigeration at temperatures of 36 to 46° F. Like the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine cannot be re-frozen if distributed at routine refrigeration temperatures.
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Standby lists and resources for leftover Covid-19 vaccines
The following resources and websites aren’t a way to game the system or “skip the line” for the vaccine but rather a way to avoid leftover or extra vaccines going to waste.
Getting Covid-19 vaccines to as many people as quickly as possible is critical to trying to get the pandemic under control, says Leonard R. Krilov, MD, chief of pediatric infectious disease at New York University Langone Hospital in New York City.
“As Covid-19 vaccines are being rolled out, confusion and difficulties scheduling appointments remain a concern,” Dr. Krilov says. “Sites like Dr. B attempting to help link people to locations with vaccine doses that would otherwise be wasted can play a useful role for people who can respond immediately, although I cannot comment on the safety or equity of such sites.”
Sharon Nachman, MD, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital in Stony Brook, New York, says that these are excellent resources with one caveat: They only benefit those who are computer or smartphone savvy. “In an ideal world, we would all know how to use them,” she says. “And even more importantly, we would have more than enough vaccines and appointments for all of our families.”
Dr. Krilov says that these resources may not be readily available to people and communities that need the vaccine the most, such as people in underserved areas, those without Internet access, and the elderly who have difficulty navigating such resources, among others.
“Hopefully, as increasing doses of vaccine become available in the near future, vaccine availability will improve greatly,” he says.
With all of that in mind, the resources below can help you get extra Covid-19 vaccine. (Here’s how to get the Covid-19 vaccine.)
This free service connects those who want the vaccine with verified providers who have leftover doses, and more than 1,000,000 people nationwide have signed up for Dr. B. (Another site, Vaccination Standby, joined forces with Dr. B. to help people find leftover vaccines.)
One reason some vaccines are going to waste is because of no-show appointments, according to the New York-based start-up. People missing their vaccine appointments aren’t the only cause of extra vaccines, reports Dr. B. Vials may come with extra doses, and any thawed vials have to be used within six hours or risk being thrown out.
How it works: To sign up, enter basic information, such as your date of birth, address, underlying health conditions, and the type of work you do. If nearby vaccine providers have extra doses, you’ll receive a text notification. You have 15 minutes to respond, so you need to be ready, willing, and able to quickly travel to the vaccination site (it’s based on your zip code). The website sorts people via local vaccine priority rules. This helps distribute leftover Covid-19 vaccines to those with the greatest need.
Crowd-sourcing for leftover vaccines
These sites crowdsource information about vaccine distribution sites that have expiring doses. Unlike Dr. B, this site doesn’t set up appointments for you, and for the time being, they’re mostly helpful for people living in or near major urban centers. But they’re continuing to add information as they get it.
On the Vaccine Hunter website, people can search by click on their state to find local Facebook and other social media groups along with other vaccine-finder websites.
(Find out if you can test positive for Covid-19 after getting the vaccine.)
One hour before closing, pharmacists input any remaining doses set to expire that day. On VaxPaxx, you can check the site for any leftover doses by inputting your zip code. It’s a first-come, first-serve situation, but the guidelines note to respect the vaccine priority guidelines in your area.
Confused by the name? Vaccine.sexy claims that vaccination is sexy, but wasting vaccines is not. (Do you need the vaccine if you had Covid-19?) You can find your area on the site’s map and explore the shared resources. You can add a point to the map if you know of any related resources or Covid-19 vaccines that will expire soon. The site says it’s working on implementing notifications.
Other ways to find extra Covid-19 vaccine doses
Opt for local vaccination standby lists
If you are in New York, California, or Tennessee, you can check out local standby lists at TurboVax, VaccinateCA, and VaxQueue, respectively. If you live somewhere else, Dr. Krilov recommends checking local vaccination clinics’ websites or vaccinefinder.org. They may offer standby, rapid on-call, or cancellation sign-up lists.
Call local vaccination providers
It’s old-fashioned, but calling vaccination clinics on the phone may be better than browsing their websites. Call and ask if they usually have any leftover Covid-19 vaccines available. Learn how they distribute these leftovers. Once you learn more, it might be a good idea to share the information on one of the crowdsourcing vaccine websites above.
Visit your vaccine clinics around closing time
This option is at the bottom of the list for a reason. Clinics don’t want crowds of unvaccinated people waiting around for extras. Still, some providers allow lines to distribute excess Covid-19 vaccines at the end of the day. Always check to ensure they allow waiting before trying this method.
The bottom line
Covid-19 vaccination across the United States is happening slowly but surely. Although there’s no guarantee that you will receive a Covid-19 vaccine with these resources, they might be worth checking out so that fewer to no vaccines go to waste.
Next, check out these Covid-19 stories about what it’s really like to get the vaccine.
- NPR: "How Is The COVID-19 Vaccination Campaign Going In Your State?"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "CDC’s COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout Recommendations"
- Pfizer: "COVID-19 Vaccine U.S. Distribution Fact Sheet"
- Moderna: "Moderna Announces Longer Shelf Life for its COVID-19 Vaccine Candidate at Refrigerated Temperatures"
- Johnson & Johnson: "Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine Authorized by U.S. FDA For Emergency Use - First Single-Shot Vaccine in Fight Against Global Pandemic"
- Sharon Nachman, MD, the chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children's Hospital
- Leonard R. Krilov, MD, the chief of pediatric infectious disease at NYU Langone Hospital
- Vaccination Standby
- Dr. B
- Vaccine Hunter