From dressing up as elderly people to lying about their occupation, more reports are emerging of people accused of misrepresenting their vaccine eligibility to skip ahead amid a vaccine shortage.
The problem is expected to get worse in California for two reasons: the state's March 15th eligibility expansion including anyone with certain medical conditions and no real consequences for vaccine violators.
Our Investigative Team began looking into the issue after receiving reports of people paying a $200 fee to become new patients at One Medical, a membership-based healthcare practice, just to take advantage of its easy-to-use vaccination booking system. When our team went to San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) with questions about this, the county said it had penalized One Medical for vaccinating ineligible people – people who One Medical said claimed they were healthcare workers.
If people blatantly lie about their eligibility, law enforcement likely will not get involved. The San Jose Police Department, San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office and Alameda County Sheriff’s Office all said they are not aware of anything that would allow their officers to cite vaccine offenders.
One Medical’s controversy isn’t isolated to San Francisco. Other Bay Area counties said they received complaints about the company vaccinating ineligible patients. County officials told NBC Bay Area Thursday One Medical is no longer receiving additional vaccines from San Francisco, Alameda and Santa Mateo County. The practice is allowed to administer second doses to people who already got their first shot.
Before learning about the county penalties, the Investigative Unit spoke to Dr. Andrew Diamond, One Medical’s chief medical officer, about challenges providers face enforcing vaccine rules and why the company doesn’t require someone to upload proof before confirming a vaccine appointment.
“In many cases that is what’s being doing,” Dr. Diamond said. “The tradeoff is there’s a lot of people who are in the most dire need of vaccination who really would not have the first idea as how to upload something.”
When asked if there any consequences for people using One Medical who blatantly lie about their eligibility, Dr. Diamond said, “The most important consequence is they won’t get a vaccine, but at the same time we really have to respect that we are in an unprecenteded public health emergency which is causing unprecedented public anxiety.”
As for the recent scandal, One Medical declined our request for a second interview. In a statement Thursday, the company said “We had permission from the SFDPH to vaccinate this group, and we were transparent with SFDPH about our eligibility attestation process.”
In regards to the other penalties, One Medical said San Mateo County stopped supplying vaccines after they “in good faith – vaccinated a group of public school teachers who had been referred…by their school superintendent.” One Medical said it’s their understanding the practice is still receiving vaccines from Alameda County, although the county’s public information officer said in a recent email its department of public health “did not fill One Medical’s next [vaccine] request…[and have] not allocated any additional doses to One Medical.” NBC Bay Area has emailed the county for clarification.
Dr. Diamond believes many of these problems will be resolved once more doses become available, especially with the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
NBC Bay Area reached out to the California Department of Public Health about vaccine enforcement, but has not head back.
Candice Nguyen is an investigative reporter for NBC Bay Area. Email her about this story or other at firstname.lastname@example.org.