In December, all states began vaccinating only health care workers and residents and nursing home workers in the “Phase 1A” priority group. However, since the start of the new year, some states have also begun recording or booking appointments for other categories of seniors and key workers.
As states expand licensing requirements for those who can get a Covid-19 vaccine, health officials often take people’s word for it to qualify, prioritizing efficiency over strict adherence to distribution schedules.
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“We are doing everything we can to vaccinate only those who are ‘in phase’ but we will not turn away anyone who has scheduled their vaccination appointment and tell us that they are in phase if they have no evidence or ID,” said Bill Christian, Tennessee Department of Health spokesman.
In states where all seniors are to be vaccinated, schedules and strategies vary. Tennessee began offering recordings to people aged 75 and over on January 1. So Frank Bargatze of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, grabbed an online appointment for his father – and then went ahead and entered his own name, even though he’s only 63 years old.
“He’s 88,” Bargatze said, pointing to his father in the passenger seat after both of them received their first shots at a drive-through vaccination station in Murfreesboro, a large city outside Nashville. “I jumped on his train,” he added with a laugh. “I’ll blame him for it.”
Bargatze works with people recovering from an addiction a few days a week, he added, so he could sort of qualify as a healthcare worker.
Some departments try harder than others, but overwhelmed public health departments don’t have time to do much checking.
Dr. Lorraine MacDonald is the medical examiner in Rutherford County, Tennessee, where she staffed the vaccination center. If people seeking the vaccine pass the online registration process, MacDonald said, and show up for their appointment, health officials won’t ask any more questions – as long as they’re on the online registration list. above.
“That’s a tough question,” MacDonald admitted when asked if people below the minimum age would join older family members and also lie down for a dose. “It’s pretty much the honor system.”
People who have been vaccinated in multiple counties of Tennessee told a reporter they did not need to show identification or proof of skilled employment when they arrive at a vaccination site. The Tennessee health departments are generally mistaken on the page of simply giving the shot, even if the person is non-local or legally in the country.
The loose enforcement of the sales stages extends to other parts of the country, including Los Angeles. In response, the New York governor is considering making skipping a line a criminal offense.
Still, many people who don’t qualify on paper believe that they may need the vaccine just as much as those who qualify in the early stages.
Gayle Boyd from Murfreesboro is 74 years old, which means she didn’t quite make the cutoff in Tennessee (75). But she also has lung cancer and is so eager to get the vaccine and get back to a more normal life this week, she joined her slightly older husband at the Murfreesboro vaccination center.
“Nobody really challenged me,” she said, noting that she was briefing vaccination staff about her medical problems. “Everyone was exceptionally nice.”
Technically, a respiratory risk factor like lung cancer in the state’s current vaccination schedule doesn’t skip anyone who doesn’t otherwise qualify. But in some neighboring states like Georgia, where the minimum age limit is 65, Boyd would qualify.
Even for those who sympathize with such situations, anecdotes about skipping lines annoy many who try to wait for their intervention.
“We’re trying to be accountable,” said Gina Kay Reid, 57, of Eagleville, Tennessee.
Reid was also at the Murfreesboro vaccination site, sitting in the back seat as she accompanied her elderly husband and mother. She said she didn’t think of getting her first doses of vaccine with them. “If you take one and don’t necessarily need it, you’re knocking out someone who is in that higher risk group.”
But there is a way for younger, healthier people to get the vaccine sooner rather than later – and not take a dose away from someone who deserves more.
A growing number of jurisdictions are discovering that they have cans left at the end of each day. And the recordings cannot be stored overnight once they are thawed. Some pharmacists, such as some in Washington, DC, offer them to anyone nearby.
Jackson, Tennesse, has created a “quick reply” list for anyone willing to contact the health department within 30 minutes. Dr. Lisa Piercey, the state’s health commissioner, said her own aunt and uncle received a call at 8 p.m. and rushed to the county vaccination center to get their doses.
Piercey called it a “best practice” that she hopes will be adopted by other jurisdictions. It provides a way to obtain the vaccine for people looking for the vaccine and helps states not to waste precious doses.
This story is part of a partnership to which WPLN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.
Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation that is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.
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