Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Two Washington D.C. men were offered the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine while shopping at a Giant Food supermarket on January 2. The pharmacist at the store told them that she had two leftover doses she’d have to throw out when the store closed in 10 minutes because the first responders who were scheduled to receive the vaccines had missed their appointments. One of the men, David MacMillan, posted a TikTok video of the chance encounter, paired to the mashup song “Celebrate the Good Times.” He will return to the pharmacy to receive the second dose later this month.
The situation MacMillan found himself in is rare — he’s a 22-year-old law student and would not have been eligible to receive the vaccine until the final phase of the city’s rollout. But it raises the ethical question of whether someone should get the vaccine early if the opportunity presents itself. Would that lucky person take the spot of someone else who needs it more, or is it saving a potentially wasted dose?
At this stage in vaccine distribution, which has been moving at a much slower pace than public health experts had hoped, New York University School of Medicine bioethicist Arthur Caplan, PhD, says, “I think the moral principle is get vaccinated.”
The Moderna vaccine must be stored long-term at subfreezing temperatures, but it can survive in a regular refrigerator at 45 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 30 days. Once it reaches room temperature, like during distribution, it must be used within 12 hours or it’ll expire. The Pfizer vaccine temperature requirements are even stricter — it can only be refrigerated for five days and must be discarded if it gets warmer. Given those time crunches, Caplan says there’s often “no easy way to get [the vaccine] into a more deserving person’s arm,” and the priority should therefore be “get a vaccine in somebody’s arm, don’t worry about whether [it] belongs there.”
“I think the moral principle is get vaccinated.”