“Do you think I can still receive it today?” Asks a woman to a health worker, looking at the COVID-19 vaccination room. At 60 years old, he is not yet part of the priority group in São Paulo and does not know when he will be vaccinated. That is why he hopes to get a surplus at the end of his workday. It’s five in the afternoon on Monday, March 29. Little by little, other people began to arrive with the same hope: to get the vaccine.
The vaccine vials available in the public system (CoronaVac and AstraZeneca) have 10 doses. Those that are not used become useless at 8 hours and must be thrown away. Therefore, every day the neighbors go through the blue door of the health unit to try their luck. Most of them put their name and contact in a notebook that marks the order in the line. If, at the end of the day, there are any doses left over, the unit employees call the first name on the list to warn that they may be immunized and thus avoid waste. The lucky person has 15 minutes to get to the place. If you miss the call or miss the time, you lose your turn. His name returns to the list, but at the end. For this reason, there are those who try their luck in the health unit to get the dose of those who did not arrive.
People of any age group can sign up for the “leftover” vaccine, but vaccinators try to prioritize those over 60 when there are rarely too many doses. It is not known exactly how many people are waiting for this surplus in this health center, located in the Santa Cecilia neighborhood, central region of the city. The vaccinators say that there are already almost 4,000, while the São Paulo City Council estimates that there are 800.
The names already fill four notebooks, three of them complete. However, so far only a few pages of the first “surplus” notebook have been completed. Only 30 people made it. Whoever succeeds has the right to take the second dose normally and complete the protection scheme against the virus.
800 people on the waiting list
“What time do you usually call so I can be aware of my cell phone?”, The woman continues to ask the vaccinator. “There is no way of knowing, there is hardly ever anything left. But if there is, it is at the end of the day ”, responds a vaccinator. Retiree Wilson Neves Bezerra, 64, says he has been waiting in line since the beginning of the year. “I put my name more than a month ago and so far I have not achieved anything,” he says in front of the health center. On Monday he returned to the scene to list the name of his wife, Silvia Toth Bezerra, 62. “We tried because the expectation is great. When I saw that it was the 800 number in line, more than a month ago, I realized that it was going to take a long time, “he says.
Neves believes that he will only be able to get vaccinated when the campaign opens for his age group, which he hopes will happen soon. Even so, it is worth trying to anticipate. “I am not anguished, but I am all the time with my mobile and if they call me, I answer. I live here in the neighborhood, in ten minutes I’m here. I’m even scared to go out for a bike ride to clear my head. I wish I could do it more safely, right? ”, He justifies.
A few meters from there, a woman in her 50s raises her mobile and shows, in the background, a sign with the phrase “Here is vaccination.” Without a headset, he participates in a work meeting via video conference and, at the same time, stands in line for the “surplus”. “Look where I am!”, She says excitedly to her companions. “Are you going to get vaccinated now?” Someone asks. “I’ll try, right?” He says. The woman says that she has already put her name in the notebook twice in recent weeks, but since she never received the call, she decided to go to the health unit and wait in person. “I’ll stay until the end to see if I can.” She insists on waiting outside even though she repeatedly hears from employees that there is rarely a vaccine left and that if this happens, people will be called first in notebook order.
“It is useless to wait. The risk of getting infected here is higher. His turn should already arrive in April ”, says one of the workers of the unit to a 64-year-old man, who also asked about the surplus. But his words don’t seem to have any effect. An hour before the end of the day, around six in the afternoon, three more people arrive. There is no crowding. The health facility is large and relatively empty. The last to arrive are joined by five other people who were sitting in chairs in the side aisle. All the time vaccinators try to explain that there is no point in staying there. “We don’t prioritize who is here. There are people who put their name in January and have not yet succeeded ”, explains a health professional. It is in vain.
Minutes later, an employee notices that there is only one dose left in the bottle and there is still half an hour to go before someone from the priority group arrives. “There will be no vaccine left,” he tells everyone, but no one leaves.
It is 6:30 pm, it is very hot and the expectation only grows. Now there are 12 people waiting. They try to create a parallel queue on a first-come, first-served basis while doing calculations to convince themselves that there is still a chance of getting a vaccine that day. “If two more people arrive, there will be nine doses left,” says a young woman in her early 30s. Once again, an employee of the unit explains that they have some single-dose vials and that if someone else shows up, no more vials with ten doses will open. The municipal administration organizes the logistics of the vaccines so that, in fact, there are no doses left at the end of the day.
“After the second wave started and many young people began to die, I was scared. I’ve always been in favor of vaccines, so I decided to try to stay calm and protect myself, ”says 44-year-old Ilana Wurcelman. He says that he decided to put his name in the “surplus” notebook after a neighbor got vaccinated two weeks ago. As she was not called, she decided to try her luck in person at the health unit. He stayed there for more than an hour. Putting her name back on the list, she paced up and down, restless. He waited and waited. Nothing. When the doors to the health center closed at the end of business hours, at 7 p.m., she was filled with frustration. “We create hope that we are going to get vaccinated and we end up frustrated, upset. I’m not taking any more risks. As I have not succeeded today, I am not going back ”.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.