By ERIN SCHUMAKER and SASHA PEZENIK, ABC News
(LOUISVILLE, Ky.) — Members of the public in Kentucky lucked into getting vaccinated for COVID-19 on Christmas Eve when local Walgreens stores had extra doses that would have expired.
The excess doses were offered to local first responders, Walgreens staff and residents in Louisville and Lexington, many of whom where older than 65, according to Walgreens spokesperson Phil Caruso.
“COVID-19 vaccines are not available to the general public at this time,” Caruso said in a statement. “We experienced an isolated situation in which the amount of vaccine doses requested by facilities exceeded the actual need.”
In a phone interview with ABC News, Andrew Masterson said he and his wife felt fortunate to have gotten the vaccine serendipitously — and acknowledged that there are many vulnerable Americans still waiting to receive their shot.
“We were just in the right place at the right time,” Masterson said. “I just felt like I had to jump on this opportunity. But I do feel very guilty. We were just lucky.”
He and his 16-year-old son were last-minute shopping Christmas Eve when a friend who happened to stop in at Walgreens found there were extra doses to be had. The friend immediately thought of the Mastersons — particularly Melissa, Andrew’s wife, who has been battling breast cancer, stage IV, for the second time.
“We rushed up there, they took our names down, we had to get our doctor’s approval to make sure it was OK for Melissa to take with her chemo medication — waited a little while — but then sat down, got the shot, and five minutes later we were walking out the door, with hope,” Masterson said.
Melissa had been in remission until January, when the cancer came back. It had spread to her spine. She began chemotherapy in April — what Andrew recalls as a scary time: Chemo can weaken the immune system, and Melissa was getting it right as the pandemic picked up steam. When hospitals tightened their visitor protocols, there was a time Andrew couldn’t visit her.
Andrew, a local restaurant owner who said he’s also contracted with Meals on Wheels, helping to package and deliver seniors’ meals, was concerned he’d bring the virus home to his wife — or to one of his high-risk meal recipients.
Kentucky is in Phase 1A of vaccine distribution, which only includes health care workers and people in long-term care facilities. The state is expected to move into Phase 1B in February, according to the governor.
Although neither Andrew or Melissa are in the ‘1A’ vaccine group, when presented the opportunity, he felt they had to jump on it.
Even after receiving the first dose of the vaccine, the Mastersons aren’t planning on letting down their guard. “We still have an obligation to the general public to, you know, protect our neighbors and our friends,” Andrew said. “Even though we might be safe, or immune — we’re gonna pretend as though we’re not.”
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday that pharmacies in both cities had extra doses of the vaccine after performing vaccinations in long-term care facilities and that offering those doses to the public went against protocol. It was unclear how many non-priority people had received vaccines.
“I don’t think that this was intentional, and we have to understand that in an undertaking this massive that mistakes are going to happen,” Beshear said. Procedures are in place to make sure “the right thing happens next time,” he added.
During an interview with “Good Morning America” on Tuesday, Dr. Ashish Jha, dean at Brown University School of Public Health, spoke about the difficulty local health departments are having distributing the vaccine without a national plan or funding.
“The biggest problem is getting the vaccine from the states into people’s arms,” Jha said.
“We’re starting to see departments of health that are really stretched having to try to figure out how to get all these vaccines into people and it’s going much more slowly than I think the federal authorities thought it would.”
ABC News’ William Gretsky contributed to this report.
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