Coronavirus (Covid-19) and the vaccine: Seeking Moderna, and not always able to find it

Filed Under: Costs

A Chicago area woman told me a story the other day about getting her third dose of Moderna vaccine.

She qualifies because of medical issues. So she went to a Walgreen’s and asked for Moderna. She was told that they’d have to thaw the vial. “If I’m the only one, will the other doses get wasted?” she asked.

They told her that was their last remaining Moderna vial, and no, they didn’t have any other candidates for a shot, but they were ready to open it up for her.

Because she didn’t want to waste the rest of the vial, she called four or five other Walgreens stores. None of them had it.

She was told at the first one, “Walgreen’s wants us only to do Pfizer. If you don’t get this now, and someone else comes in, no, I won’t have it.”

She went ahead and got it at the first place, thinking that this would be much more difficult than the first two doses, which she got at the county health department.

A quick Twitter search shows that the Illinois woman is not alone in her frustration — others are also reporting that they can’t find Moderna boosters. In Oregon — “I can’t find them anywhere in my state (OR)” one woman tweeted, while a Nevada woman tweeted “My husband and I are trying to find a place in Reno to get the Moderna booster. Can’t find it anywhere, yet. So very frustrating!”.

I asked Walgreens and CVS by email whether they were consistently stocking Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, given the Illinois woman’s experience and also some other scattered reports online that people were having trouble finding Moderna. It’s also important given that widespread booster approval for the Moderna vaccine seems days away, as does approval for children ages 5 to 11 to get the Pfizer vaccine.

Matthew Blanchette, manager of retail communications at CVS Pharmacy, wrote in an email: “Currently more than 9,600 CVS Pharmacy locations in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. offer either the Pfizer-BioNTech or the Moderna vaccine, but not more than one type per location. The type of vaccine that a specific location is administering is indicated at time of scheduling online at CVS.com.

“Limited select MinuteClinic locations currently offer the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine. We are awaiting FDA and CDC guidance on booster doses for the Moderna and J&J vaccines and vaccinations for children ages 5-11.”

Walgreens did not respond. We did not ask the several dozen other chains involved in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, which was instituted by the Biden administration to speed vaccine delivery by putting it in the hands of the chains, which have expertise in delivering flu shots as well as prescriptions. Other participants include Walmart, Rite Aid, Kroger, Publix, Meijer, Costco, Jewel-Osco and Safeway. The full list from the initial announcement is here.

What can you do?

It’s possible that people seeking Moderna boosters will find it challenging, since many of the big public sites that distributed vaccines earlier this year have closed.

I got my Moderna two-shot series at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, part of the New York City Health + Hospitals empire. I am expecting that they will carry Moderna when I’m eligible for the third shot.

What can you do? You can go to vaccines.gov and search for your preferred vaccine.

Note: I did that, and restricted my search first to Moderna and then to Pfizer. The search showed both were available at a CVS near me just north of New York City, so that might suggest that the site is not exceptionally reliable, or that Blanchette’s information was out of date, or both.

Record-keeping also an issue

After she got her shot, the Illinois woman started getting reminders from Walgreens to come in for her second shot — the system apparently having booked her as a first-time recipient.

She called the store to tell them that this was a third dose, and they should stop recording her as a first-time recipient. The pharmacist, who she knows, said that this was the way the system works, suggesting that the mechanism for recording a third dose, at least at Walgreens, is somehow flawed.

This is important because she will be recorded as two separate people in whatever state or national record-keeping there is: One person who got two doses at the county site, and one person who got only one dose at a Walgreens.