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Cutting the Line: How Some Individuals are Scamming Their Way to the COVID-19 Vaccine

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Nearly a month into the vaccination process, some individuals are cutting to the front of the line, so they can get their shot as quickly as possible, even if that means cheating the system.

Many healthcare workers have been hesitant to take the vaccine, which has been slowing down the process, even as millions of essential workers wait for their first shot. Instead of getting the shot themselves, some workers have been handing off their ticket to a vaccine to family and friends, disrupting the process for everyone else.

Cheating the System in Rhode Island

To get the vaccine tol workers, many states have started sending confidential registration links to providers via email, asking them if they are interested in signing up for their first shot. If the provider wants a shot, they are then asked to enter information about their health. They can then make an appointment via the online registration system. Every message comes with a warning, “Please do not share these links beyond your employees.”

Sometimes, though,, that’s not what happens.

Several high-priority workers have shared the confidential registration links so low-priority individuals could get access to the vaccine even though they were not eligible. Others altered the details of the email links, thus releasing the time and place of the vaccinations.

Alysia Mihalakos, a member of the Health Department’s COVID-19 vaccine subcommittee, said during a virtual briefing, “They somehow cheated the system. The demand for vaccines is clearly very high, and people are willing to push others aside in order to get themselves or their loved ones vaccinated.”

Mihalakos did not disclose the identity of the individuals or organizations to blame, but the mix-up led to major managerial headaches. She says the vaccination system is in temporary crisis mode. The state had to shut down the registration links to find who had actually been vaccinated.

“We had to cancel a number of appointments for people who were eligible to be vaccinated and make appropriate notifications and follow-up with our health-care partners to say, ‘We’re sorry you were unable to register for your event because all of the slots were filled because we had this huge group of people who were not eligible who filled those slots.’ So, we are cleaning that up and are trying to get our health-care partners back on track for their vaccinations. It had no impact on today’s operations,” Mihalakos said.

Overall, it shows the honor system can break down in times of crisis.

As Mihalakos continued, “We were disappointed to learn that people were sharing the links with people who are not in any of the priority groups. They were trying to cut ahead of the line for individuals who are higher risk and who have been determined should be vaccinated first.”

She admits that they won’t be able to prevent these kinds of issues 100% of the time, but they are working on new protective measures for the registration links to make sure they don’t end up in the wrong hands.

The Rhode Island Health Department is also working with other agencies to help resolve the issue.

“We are just trying to protect the right people knowing that there are so many ‘right people’ who should be protected. It’s very unfortunate that folks are unwilling to follow the guidance that’s been produced, but we’re just going to have to continue to put protections in place wherever we can,” she added.

Vaccinating the Rich and Powerful in Florida

In another scandal, Keith Myers, chief executive of MorseLife Health System, a prominent nursing home and assisted living community in West Palm Beach, FL, has been accused of sending precious COVID-19 vaccines to wealthy donors and board members instead of frontline workers.

Many have described the vaccine as “liquid gold,” and now it seems as if Myers is trying to cash in.

According to the FDA, the first doses of the vaccines should go to frontline health workers and nursing home residents. While some shots have gone to elderly residents, Myers has been offering the vaccine to those who have made generous donations to the facility, including members of the Palm Beach Country Club.

According to financial records, the Palm Beach Country Club, some of whose members were immunized at MorseLife, has contributed $75,000 to MorseLife Health System affiliates since 2016.

It’s not clear how many invitations went out to these individuals, but some reportedly accepted the offer.

The arrangement seems to violate federal and state vaccination guidelines, but the rules spelled out by Gov. Ron DeSantis aren’t exactly clear, leading to confusion across the state. There have been reports of elderly residents waiting outside overnight to get their shot.

State Rep. Omari Hardy (D), who represents the region that includes MorseLife, accused Myers and MoresLife of “selling access to this vaccine.” He added, “So if MorseLife is giving this vaccine away to the well-connected, they need to be held accountable for that.”

To some, these issues represent a lack of federal oversight when it comes to distributing the vaccine. While the FDA has issued clear guidelines, states and facilities are deciding who should get first access. Let’s hope these doses get into the arms of essential workers, instead of those with the deepest pockets. 

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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