WFH team takes advantage of COVID vaccine ‘access codes’

A California program aimed at improving the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine to people in the hardest hit communities of color is being misused by outsiders who are getting appointments reserved for residents of underserved black and Latino areas.

The program to address vaccine distribution inequalities is based on special access codes that allow people to schedule appointments on the My Turn vaccine scheduling website. The codes are provided to community organizations for distribution to people from predominantly Black and Latino communities.

But those codes have also been circulating, in text messages and group messages, among the wealthiest, who work from home in Los Angeles, The Times learned. Many of those people are not yet eligible for the vaccine under state rules.

Some people who were able to make appointments have been driving to Cal State Los Angeles to get their shots.

It’s unclear how the codes got into the hands of outsiders, but the situation has forced the state to fight to protect the integrity of a fairness program that Governor Gavin Newsom and other officials have been hailing. The state canceled appointments made with at least one of the access codes after The Times asked about it last week.

Establishing equity in the vaccine distribution process has become very important during the launch of the vaccine in California. Newsom has often spoken of the importance of administering vaccines “through a lens of equity.” But deep inequalities in vaccine administration have still emerged in the state, and white and Asian residents in wealthy areas are being vaccinated at much higher rates than black and Latino people in poorer areas.

Under the plan, the state aims to book an appointment block every day in Cal State LA and the Oakland Coliseum, according to an email sent to community partners by the director of the Office of Access and Functional Needs of the Governor’s Office. California Emergency Services.

The citations block is only accessible with a specific code, which will change periodically according to use, depending on the email.

The codes are intended to be used by people from communities of color who are eligible for vaccines, including healthcare workers and those 65 and older, but who might otherwise have difficulty getting an appointment.

State officials have been contacted by more than 2,000 community groups interested in participating in the program, according to Cal OES spokesman Brian Ferguson.

But problems with the program emerged early last week, shortly after the codes became available.

Three separate passcodes targeting vulnerable populations in Los Angeles strayed far from their intended recipients, making their way to more prosperous social media and professionals, The Times found. In all cases, the origin of the access codes was not clear. Those who distributed the codes did not appear to be aware that they were intended for the most affected communities. In several cases, people thought they had come across a pilot program that was open to everyone.

A person who shared an access code with The Times on Thursday said several of the person’s otherwise ineligible friends were able to make vaccine appointments on the Cal State LA site using the code. As of Sunday night, several of those people had been vaccinated, said the person who asked not to be identified because he did not want to offend friends who had shared the code. The individual, who is white, described his friends as also white and “in a group where they are very protected.”

Another person who spoke to The Times said they received a screenshot of a message with a seven-digit access code and a link to the My Turn website on Tuesday morning. A doctor friend sent the link for appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine, the original submitter wrote. “Apparently it’s a new testing site that is ‘testing their system’ for a few days before they open appointments for the elderly and infirm, etc. Anyone can register if appointments are available. Give it a try!”

The code worked when a Times reporter tested it Tuesday morning, opening a page through which a person could make an appointment at the newly opened Cal State LA Community Immunization Center. Another individual who spoke to The Times the same day said that he had received the access code from a friend and did not know how the friend had taken possession of it.

The stated purpose of the access codes is not conveyed anywhere on the My Turn website, nor does the site say that the codes are intended to be used solely by certain groups. Even with a passcode, actual dating spaces are still limited and not always available on the site.

The program’s discontinuation is the latest example of inequity in a pandemic defined by its disproportionate impact on low-income communities of color. The same problems have been reflected in the county’s informal vaccine reservation lines, in which large groups of predominantly white people tend to camp for hours outside a South Los Angeles clinic in hopes of receiving an injection.

Ferguson acknowledged that there were instances of a community group sending the code to its members “in a very well-intentioned way” and that the email was shared more widely with the general public.

“To address that, we have taken steps to ensure that we are auditing, monitoring how codes are used very carefully,” he said, explaining that the program was new and challenges were being addressed.

By Monday night, the codes had spread so rapidly through certain social media that a woman in her 40s who lives near downtown Los Angeles told The Times she had been sent three codes from different people in the last days.

She had refused to make an appointment, but knew several people, whom she described as white and “essential non-workers”, who had been successfully vaccinated using the codes. “Nobody believes they are doing something wrong,” said the woman, who declined to give her name because she did not want to offend those who had shared the code with her.

“Honestly, they have convinced themselves to believe that this is leftovers, that it is a pilot test, open to all.”

Times staff writer John Myers contributed to this report.

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