Coronavirus (Covid-19) and the vaccine: The problem of ‘vaccine cheats’ is spreading

Filed Under: Costs, Patients, Providers

Some people are trying really, really hard to bend the rules and get vaccinated against Covid — lying and cheating to make it happen.

Meanwhile, others are watching, appalled, at the behavior of people they know. We’ve seen people on social media scolding others for showing pictures of their newly vaccinated selves — even if those vaccines were completely legitimate, and especially if the were not. The pandemic has taken its toll in so many ways.

Because the rules are so different from state to state, and from distribution site to distribution site, it’s a picture of chaos. People from Iowa and Colorado and Oregon on my social media feeds recently wrote that there is very little checking of eligibility in some locales — it’s pretty much on the honor system. In New York, some sites ask for a letter from a doctor or other proof that a person has a pre-existing condition qualifying her for a shot; some ask for nothing at all, making it effectively an honor system.

We’ve written about “backdoor” and “loophole” vaccines before (see here). Here are some more examples of more questionable behavior — which one acquaintance on Facebook labeled “vaccine cheats.”

Au pairs and nannies

A Washington man in one of my circles wrote on social media: “We have an au pair and are part of some local boards that post notes. When Biden said all states should vaccinate teachers Gov. Inslee changed the rules in WA to allow teachers and licensed childcare workers vaccination. His intent was to get pre-school and school teachers vaccinated and the actual language of the tiers makes that clear. However, some people interpreted it as ALL childcare workers and off went a bunch of nannies and au pairs (none of the ones I’m aware of were questioned when they went to get vaccinated … it’s all sort of on-your-honor).

“Similarly, several categories further down the priority list have very broad descriptions for headlines (e.g., food production workers) … which are subsequently narrowed dramatically in the fine print (if you work inside in groups of 6 or more).”

I told him and the other people in the discussion that I’d like to use their stories, but didn’t need to use their names because I’m aware of the social friction associated with finger-pointing over vaccine-getting.

A Chicago man in the same discussion wrote: “I know of someone who forged a doctor’s letterhead and created a letter saying she worked there.” He said she was successful, but knew no other details.

‘Plenty of people are lying’

A Portland, Ore., woman who works in public health wrote: “No one is checking eligibility. Plenty of people are lying to get it here, most of them white people who feel entitled. It is shitty. I am on a group watching our seniors struggle to get an appointment, meanwhile someone has been telling people that one place in our state doesn’t even ask for ID, so a couple from California drove up to get it last weekend. The person who told me about it is lying and going to get it this weekend. I think it’s okay to judge these people, they are entitled assholes.”

In a phone interview, she explained: “Basically, I think that they just don’t have the capacity to verify anything — especially now that they’re kind of trying to ramp up and get more people vaccinated. I was really fascinated to hear, anecdotally, that at the convention center in Salem, they’re not even asking for ID to verify that they’re an Oregon resident.” She added that she knew of a couple planning to go to the convention center and attest that they are caregivers for her mom — because Oregon is now allowing unpaid caregivers to get vaccinated.

She added that because she is a public health worker, it is especially frustrating, and also because she is a member of a Facebook group that is seeking to help people get vaccinated. “What I have seen is seniors trying to help each other navigate how to get an appointment,” she said. “I get really frustrated when I see people jumping the line, because I know that there are seniors who have technological challenges, who are really struggling to find appointments.”

Oregon put educators first in line, she explained, and not seniors, “so our seniors are about three to four weeks behind the rest of the country.”

She added that there is a lot of misinformation and confusion, born partly of the fact that there are 50 different plans for 50 different states, and also because people want to believe that they are next in line. An acquaintance who is a front-line worker told her recently that he is excited that he will be in the next group to be eligible, she said. “But I told him, you guys are actually not next. The way that Oregon is doing it, the next folks are actually 45 and up,  who had pre-existing conditions. And then very narrow categories of workers who have had outbreaks — like people working in meat-packing plants and certain farm workers, basically, farm workers working in warehouses.”

“It definitely feels like Oregon is just behind in general,” she said. “I see people in other states that have chronic conditions, and they’re starting to get vaccinated. It just feels like we’re kind of behind.”

It’s faster not to verify

Linda Wormley of Newton, Iowa, wrote: “Our local Public Health department said in a meeting that 10 people can be vaccinated in the time that it takes to verify that one person is eligible. The goal is herd immunity. That said, the health department is the one taking the high road & the rest are not, a symptom of the current egocentric societal behaviors.*”

In a phone interview, she explained that this information came in a Zoom session convened by her state representative, discussing vaccine distribution with the local Jasper County public health representative (she didn’t have the name). “She didn’t exactly say that that herd immunity was the goal, but she just said we can do 10 people with less personnel if we don’t verify those things — because the long term goal is to get as many people as possible vaccinated,” Wormley said. “We would hope that people would play by the rules.”

She added that because of poor planning in Iowa: “Literally each county was left on their own to figure out how to get the vaccines out. There was no planning at the state level. Jasper County has done it really well. But a lot of people who really needed shots early on — if they didn’t have computer access, it was difficult. It was word of mouth, it was networking. Literally, that’s how I found out. The other option is to check the Jasper County Public Health Facebook page as to when something is available, and then people jump on there and share it on their Facebook pages.”

Separate signups, quick switches

Separate signups exist for chains and local providers like Walmart, Hy-Vee and so on, she added.

Further confusion was brought to the process by the lack of state planning, she said. In early March, many Iowans and many vaccine distributors in Iowa were blindsided when Gov. Kim Reynolds changed eligibility, opening it up to Iowans 64 and older and with certain health conditions: Obesity, diabetes, hypertension, pregnancy and smoking, among others.

Wormley said “the Public Health Department said they’d been told just barely, before the governor announced that she was changing the requirements for who could get it.”

“Health officials in several Iowa counties, who were surprised by the state’s announcement, said Friday they don’t expect to have enough vaccine to handle the influx right away,” The Des Moines Register reported, pointing to the chaotic rollout.

Getting the magic code by email

A California woman wrote that she was one of the many people who have had a magic code from a relative: “yeah, I got a ‘code’ that was being passed around as a way to sign up for ‘extra’ doses on any given day (as in doses that would go to waste if pp didnt show) But I googled the code and it was meant for underrepresented populations, so I didn’t use it. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t tempting! (the fact that you could use it to sign up on a day in the future should have really been my first tip off…because how would they know their no-show rate? yes, yes, predictions based on past, but still…)”

Only later did she learn the nature of the code, when the story was covered by The San Francisco Chronicle, writing about how vaccine codes for underserved populations were being circulated by Bay Area residents.

Another magic code

A woman in a medium-sized Midwestern city wrote: “Someone at my work got and shared a link for getting an appointment for the COVID vaccine. We all signed up. Then I called to confirm it was indeed an open to all situation due to extra shots. Nope. Nope. Nope. Only for those in the eligible group. Now out of 10 people I am the only one who has canceled and my coworkers are righteously proclaiming that they are essential (realtors!) and have underlying health issues and vaccines are going unused. They still are not eligible and they don’t care.”

In a phone interview later, she said that teachers and healthcare workers and frontline workers in her state have been eligible. When she got the link, she said, she sent it to a relative who works in state government, who told her this was not an open link, that it applied only to people who are already eligible (which does not include realtors in her state). By this time, she had already made her appointment, but given this information, she called the site, confirmed that it was limited, and canceled.

She then told her co-workers: “We all need to go back and cancel. I already canceled.”

But nobody did. “The responses I got was, I’m not canceling — I’m going to go and see if I can get in and I’ll let you know,” she said. “I’m like, no, it’s not for us.The appointments are legitimate. I know, I got a confirmation. But I talked to the person at the clinic on the phone. And they are not for us, they are only for the currently eligible groups. The only response I got was, ‘well, I’m immunocompromised’ and ‘my partner for works one of the big HMOs in town and he is saying that things are going to waste and people are opting out.'”

In the end, she said, the first person from her group who went was turned away for being ineligible, and she assumes the others will be also when their appointments come. But the emotional punch persisted. “This is a group of educated liberal, well-meaning people, but not one person canceled their appointment but me,” she said.

For our previous story about this, see here.