Few Safeguards In Place To Prevent Vaccine Line Skipping in NC

Few Safeguards In Place To Prevent Vaccine Line Skipping in NC

6:00am Feb 24, 2021
A health care worker vaccinates a patient at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Greensboro. APRIL LAISSLE/WFDD

The pool of North Carolinians eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine has grown. Now, pre-K-12 teachers, child care workers, and support staff can get their shot. Before, only health care workers and those over 65-years old qualified. The change could make things more complicated for the hundreds of vaccine providers charged with following those rules and verifying that no one is cutting the line. 

WFDD spoke with state and local public health officials and reviewed guidance to find out more about how providers have handled the rules so far, and the repercussions for those who ignore them.

How are providers checking to see if people are eligible to be vaccinated?

It varies by provider. Some health care systems are choosing to only vaccinate their patients and employees. That way, they’re able to verify their patient birthdates through their records and check employment status before vaccinating their own health care workers. But in most cases, providers are reliant on self-attested information from patients — no official documents are required. For example, you may be asked to give your birthdate when you register for an appointment, but your birth certificate isn’t required to secure your slot. And in most cases, when you show up to get your shot, staff members don’t ask for IDs or employment records. They just check to make sure you have an appointment. 

Now that teachers and other education workers are eligible to be vaccinated, the state is forming partnerships with school districts as a way to put employment verification in the hands of the districts. But generally, the state does not require ID checks — officials are relying on people being honest. 

Has this led to line skipping?

Yes, this is happening in a number of ways. People who don’t meet the qualifications are still signing up for appointments, and getting vaccinated without having to show ID. In some instances, providers are sending appointment sign-up links to their waiting lists, and then those are getting passed around to people not on the list who don’t qualify. Public health officials, including Forsyth County Public Health Director Joshua Swift, are aware of the problem. 

“Could there have been someone who slipped in because of something they did? It could have been a mistake on our part. It could have been someone trying to skip the line,” said Swift. “Yes, that could have happened and I’m sure it probably has in all counties.” 

It's really hard to say how frequently people are slipping through the cracks. The state releases the ages of those who have gotten vaccinated, but not their employment status or any other information that might indicate eligibility. 

Why aren’t IDs required?

Officials are concerned that it might slow down the process. They say it would take a lot of time to review documents or IDs, and their goal is to move as many people through the system as possible. Equity is another big factor. At a press event in Greensboro, Governor Roy Cooper suggested that requiring IDs could discourage people from historically marginalized communities from being vaccinated.

“We don't want to put too many barriers between the vaccine and people, and I think people are, for the most part, being honest about who they are and what they're doing,” he said. “Every adult needs a vaccine and should get a vaccine. So we don't want them spending a whole lot of time trying to verify certain things when they can be putting shots in arms.”

What are the repercussions for providers who don’t follow the rules?

The state has said that they can cut their provider vaccine allotments as a consequence of not following those priority rules. NCDHHS says it has received eight related complaints so far — the majority connected to line skipping. Six were resolved through education or dismissed due to lack of evidence. Investigations are ongoing in the last two cases. But there are no reports of action being taken against any individuals found exploiting these loopholes. 

For the most up-to-date information on coronavirus in North Carolina, visit our Live Updates blog here. WFDD wants to hear your stories — connect with us and let us know what you’re experiencing.

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