Access codes meant for vaccine equity are being misused

A man who wants to remain anonymous, tells KTVU about a group text he got Monday from an unidentified number that shared an access code that allowed him to book and get a COVID-19 vaccine shot the same day.

"I thought it was a hoax, but then I told myself I got nothing to lose," said the man who’s a grocery store worker in the East Bay.

As an essential worker, he was entitled to the vaccine, but after repeatedly trying for an appointment, couldn't secure one.

"I’ve been on the there every day, every time I get a free moment," he said.

The man appears to have gotten his hands on codes that were sent out by the state of California, which set up a system to make it easier for communities of color and low-income earners to book vaccine appointments.

KTVU contacted the California Department of Public Health to find out whether there are currently active codes circulating and how vaccine sites verify that the inoculation is administered correctly.

They didn't respond to those questions, but sent a statement that reads in part:

"To ensure we are reaching into the most at risk and most impacted communities, we are working with local organizations to ensure access to vaccinations and have provided codes to some of those community groups that represent the hardest hit. Again these codes are for use by impacted communities and if these codes are improperly used by those not in these groups, appointments will be canceled to make sure the appointment slots go to those who need them most."

"Some of these codes have gone out and they're not being used with fidelity," said Michelle Smith McDonald with the Alameda County Office of Education.

Foreseeing a possible issue with codes, her group didn't issue them before people arrived to receive their vaccine.

"We signed them up with a separate registration system and then they would come for their appointment. We would check them in and then we should punch the code in right on site," Smith told KTVU.

On Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom noted abuses to the code system and announced that changes are being made.

"The issue of abuse with people getting the codes, we are going away from group codes to individual codes and we are working with the counties on that," said Gov. Newsom.

Codes that were supposed to serve low-income communities that San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney says are only serving confusion.

"Right now somebody is getting a code. We don't know how they’ve got a code and yet I’ve got teachers who need to get vaccinated so we can reopen our schools. That’s not fair," Haney said.