Before this week, Franck Le Bousse wasn’t sure where he stood in the long line of people waiting, and hoping, to get the coronavirus vaccine.

He knew only that he wasn’t near the front.

He’s not a health-care worker or an emergency responder.

He’s not a senior citizen or a resident of an assisted-living facility.

He’s not a high-ranking politician. (Many of them, as you might recall, were among the first to offer up their arms to those lifesaving needle jabs.)

Maybe his turn would come at the end of February, or in March, Le Bousse figured. And he was okay with that. The 51-year-old D.C. resident believes government officials are right to prioritize giving the vaccine to people who are most vulnerable to the virus or who work in jobs that leave them facing higher risks of exposure.

“I completely respect the pecking order,” he tells me when we talk on a recent afternoon.

Some non-priority District residents are receiving coronavirus vaccines just before they are set to expire. (Allie Caren/The Washington Post)

But when a winning lottery ticket falls at your feet — and no one more in need is around to claim it — you don’t throw it away. You marvel at how you ended up standing at the right place at the right time.

Then you call your spouse.

That’s exactly what Le Bousse did after he walked into a Safeway in his D.C. neighborhood on a recent afternoon and, to his shock, learned that more than a dozen doses of the Moderna vaccine would expire if no one took them before the pharmacy closed in less than an hour.

“Went grocery shopping. . . . Got a vaccine!” the architect posted on his Instagram page on Monday, along with a photo showing his vaccination card.

His wife, Beth Miller, a fellow architect, also got the vaccine after she met him at the store. She had set her phone to silent that day and missed an initial text from Le Bousse that contained the word “urgent.” He then called her, and she happened to see his number appear on her screen. She says she didn’t waste time asking questions over the phone.

“I just grabbed my coat and ran to Safeway,” she says. She arrived as her husband was getting his shot in a separate room and recalls seeing him walk out after he was inoculated: “He looked like he won the lottery.”

When her turn came, Miller says she asked the practitioner why she was receiving the vaccine when she was not in the priority groups. She says she was told those shots had been set aside that day for first responders, but they never showed up.

“He said, ‘Once the vial is open, it can only be out of refrigeration for 12 hours,’ ” she recalls. “They had 15 more doses after me.”

She and Le Bousse say they are grateful that the practitioner decided to put those doses into arms instead of a garbage can. The two agreed to share their experience with me because they are hopeful more people will get the vaccine, and because they realize just how lucky they are.

In recent days, the D.C. region has seen record-setting virus infection numbers, adding to an already high toll. So far, more than 12,000 people have died of the virus in Maryland, Virginia and the District, and more than 700,000 cases have been reported in the region, according to data from The Washington Post.

Across the country, as of Wednesday, more than 359,000 people have died of the virus and more than 21 million cases have been reported. This has recently left hospitals strained and forced Los Angeles to do the once unthinkable: instruct ambulance crews to use oxygen for only the worst cases and not bring people to the hospital if they have little hope of survival.

Meanwhile, there has been widespread confusion about how the vaccine is being distributed from one place to the next, and frustration and outrage over the pace of that effort.

On Tuesday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) threatened to withhold future shipments of vaccine from hospitals and other places that have been slow to use their allotted doses.

“No doses should be sitting in freezers while others are waiting,” the governor said during a news conference.

He’s right. Hospitals, pharmacies and medical professionals in charge of getting the vaccine to people in Maryland — and elsewhere across the country — have to do better. People will patiently stand in line for as long as needed if that line is moving forward in an orderly, sensible way. But we all know what happens when it doesn’t: disorder and nudging and people purposely pushing those who were rightfully ahead of them out of the way.

Earlier in this column, I likened getting the vaccine to a winning lottery ticket. But the truth is that a person shouldn’t have to be lucky to get it within a reasonable time frame.

Getting the vaccine shouldn’t mean hoping someone failed to show up for an appointment and that the pharmacist cares enough not to waste anything.

People also shouldn’t start crowding their neighborhood grocery stores before closing time, because that is more likely to give them the virus than the vaccine.

A call to the Safeway pharmacy where Le Bousse and Miller got theirs went unreturned. A recorded message there says that the store is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and that the vaccine is currently not available to the public.

Before the pandemic, Le Bousse used to fly about 100,000 miles a year for work. But since it started, he hasn’t flown once. He also no longer takes the Metro, choosing instead to walk 45 minutes when he has to go into his office.

He says that he will continue to take those precautions, along with diligently wearing a mask, but that getting his first shot has “really started to shine a light at the end of the tunnel.”

He knows he can still catch the virus, but even one dose of the vaccine has increased his defenses against it. He was also scheduled on the spot for his second dose.

“It makes you believe in Superman suddenly,” he says, explaining that he now feels that at least he is not likely to die of the virus.

The reaction he has received from friends and relatives has also shown him how eager other people are for their chance to get the vaccine.

“They understand that’s the way to get out of this mess, and they’re in a rush. They’re like, ‘Give it to me today.’ ”

The day he got the shot, as he tells it, he was about to walk out of the grocery store when he saw information about the vaccine near the pharmacy and noticed a man standing in line. He says he asked the man whether he was waiting to register for the shot or to get it, and the man told him about the available doses. Le Bousse describes seeing at least six other people in line with him, including a couple who appeared to be in their 30s, and an older Hispanic woman who needed help filling out the paperwork because of a language barrier.

Miller says she didn’t even know Le Bousse had gone to the grocery store when she received the call from him.

“I did not expect the feeling of euphoria,” she says of getting the shot. “It felt like this huge weight had been lifted. I was not expecting that at all.”

Before that moment, she figured her turn would probably come in April or May, and she had resigned herself to waiting.

“I don’t know anyone who wants to take it away from someone who needs it more,” she says.

Even though she and Le Bousse live in D.C., she has a good reason to hope that the vaccine distribution goes smoothly, and quickly, in the states surrounding it.

Her elderly mother, whom she visits weekly, lives in Richmond.

Read more from Theresa Vargas: