Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Can California Protect COVID-19 Vaccine From Cheaters and Fraudsters?
gvw_calmatters
By CalMatters
Published 3 years ago on
December 16, 2020

Share

What seemed like a Herculean task just months ago is now here: the COVID-19 vaccine.

For the next several weeks, vaccines will be available in limited amounts in California and across the nation — and only to high-risk individuals, with supply expected to ramp up in the months to come. Experts estimate vaccines will be available to the general public sometime in the spring.

Analysis

Ana B. Ibarra
CalMatters

Until then, step in line.

But the pandemic already has showcased deep inequalities, scams, greed, fraud and a system that favors the rich and famous. Will it be the same with the COVID-19 vaccine?

“We will be very aggressive in making sure that those with means, those with influence are not crowding out those that are most deserving of the vaccines,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a recent press briefing.

The state, he said, will be monitoring distribution very closely.

There is cause for concern, however. Early in the pandemic, when testing was in short supply and unavailable to most, the affluent were getting their hands on tests through membership-based medical concierge services, Reuters reported in March. When President Donald Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani contracted COVID-19, they had access to scarce antibody treatments. Giuliani, whose symptoms were reported as mild, later admitted that his “celebrity” status helped him access care possibly not available to others.

On Sunday, the New York Times reported that the Trump administration was planning to offer the vaccine to senior White House staff members, even though these first doses are reserved for health facilities and nursing homes. The president later took this back on Twitter and said he looked forward to receiving a vaccine at an “appropriate time.”

Even before Pfizer’s vaccine was authorized for use in the U.S., celebrities joked about having already received their shot, a nod to Hollywood’s privilege that allowed celebrities like Heidi Klum and Kris Jenner to get tested early in the pandemic. Meanwhile the National Hockey League had reportedly begun planning the private purchase of doses soon after Canada OK’d the Pfizer vaccine.

Acknowledging a system that is not always fair, Newsom and other California leaders have promised equity in distributing what’s available.

On Monday, from Kaiser Permanente’s Los Angeles Medical Center where selected health workers got some of the first vaccines in California, Newsom said he is confident in the vaccine’s efficacy and safety — but would not cut in front of those who are “more deserving.”

“I look forward to taking this vaccine…but I’m not going to get in the way of any of the critical workers,” he said.

The plan is to first offer vaccines to health workers and nursing home residents, then to other essential workers and individuals at high risk of becoming ill. Newsom created a panel of experts to draft those plans and then a separate advisory group to offer input on who should go next and why. Those Californians who will follow health workers and nursing home residents have not yet been decided.

States, for Example, Will Be Collecting Information From People Who Get the Vaccine

In an email, the California Department of Public Health said that to aid transparency, it will report data on the vaccine’s administration on a public dashboard that will be updated regularly.

“We will release as much data as possible while remaining fully in compliance with federal and state patient privacy laws,” a department spokesperson said.

Dr. Trudy Larson, dean of the School of Community Health Sciences at the University of Nevada, Reno, thinks the close monitoring will help guard against any significant fraud, especially in the first months. Every dose will have to be accounted for, she said.

States, for example, will be collecting information from people who get the vaccine. That data will be inputted into a state immunization registry.

“My sense is that this may be one way for them to be able to say ‘Good, we’re reaching the folks we’re supposed to get in Tier 1, now we can move to Tier 2,’ but it also might be a disincentive for people trying to get to the front of the line,” Larson said.

California’s public health department said that it will not share names, addresses or any identifiable information with the federal government. California’s immunization program does not collect social security numbers.

However, once distribution moves beyond the first phase and doses start to be sent directly to doctors and local pharmacies, the potential will mount for people to try to pull strings to get the valuable shots, experts said.

There will always be someone who tries to cheat the system  — “It’s impossible for that not to happen,” said Dr. Belas Matyas, Solano County’s health officer. The question, he said, is whether it will happen enough to truly disrupt distribution. He hopes not.

But abusing the system isn’t just about people buying their way to the front of the line. There also is the possibility of vaccine theft and counterfeit shots. In 2004, during a flu vaccine shortage, federal officials seized thousands of doses imported illegally and headed to the black market. In 2009, during the swine flu pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a number of “distribution and marketing irregularities” involving the H1N1 vaccine.

Earlier this month, the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) issued an “orange notice” globally, warning countries that COVID-19 vaccines will likely be a prime target of organized crime, both online and in-person. It warned of theft and the possibility of people advertising, selling and administering fake vaccines.

Experts said the public should remember that vaccines will be free of charge, and should beware of anyone offering an early dose for payment.  Also, ads promoting therapies, supplements and other products as COVID-19 cures are most likely scams. As of last month, the Federal Trade Commission had sent 330 warning letters to companies that made unsupported claims that their products helped against the virus.

The California Attorney General’s office deferred questions about potential fraud related to vaccines to the governor’s office. The state’s medical board, which oversees disciplinary action for physicians, said it will be reviewing complaints it receives regarding the inappropriate administration of vaccines, as it does with any other complaint.

CalMatters COVID-19 coverage, translation and distribution is supported by generous grants from the Blue Shield of California Foundation, the California Wellness Foundation and the California Health Care Foundation.

About the Author

Ana is a Sacramento-based health reporter. She joined CalMatters in 2020 after four years at Kaiser Health News, where she covered California health care and policy.

RELATED TOPICS:

DON'T MISS

Surprising Ways and Places You Can Use SNAP EBT Food Benefits

DON'T MISS

Californians Worry About Crime, Setting up a Ballot Measure Showdown

DON'T MISS

The Pickle Flavor Frenzy and Its Rise in Food Trends

DON'T MISS

Kate Hudson Had a Lifetime to Make a Record. The Result is ‘Glorious,’ Out in May

DON'T MISS

Long-Lost First Model of USS Enterprise from ‘Star Trek’ Boldly Goes Home

DON'T MISS

California Leaders Take Sides in Monumental Supreme Court Case on Homelessness

DON'T MISS

Man Sets Himself on Fire Outside Trump Hush Money Trial Court

DON'T MISS

McDonald’s Ice Cream Machines Are So Unreliable They’re a Meme. They Might Also Be a Climate Solution.

DON'T MISS

Real Estate Experts Talk Fresno’s Economic Future. Are Tough Times Ahead?

DON'T MISS

Unlocking the Secrets to Fresno State’s Superb Baseball Season

UP NEXT

Savannah Bananas Dominate Social Media, Sell Out Stadiums Nationwide Including Fresno

UP NEXT

Local Leaders Must Put Their Shoulders Into Making Fresno ‘Education City USA’

UP NEXT

State Will Monitor Crop-Rich Kings County Region to Preserve Groundwater

UP NEXT

Fresno Coin Gallery Owner Reveals Why Gold & Silver Are Hot Investments

UP NEXT

Why Tortillas Sold in California May Be Forced to Add a New Ingredient

UP NEXT

Costco Tries Again at City Council for Big NW Fresno Move

UP NEXT

Career Technical Ed, Pre-K Could Be Hardest Hit in Budget Cuts

UP NEXT

Dr. Green Thumb’s Is Open. Sweet Flower Debuts Saturday in Fresno Cannabis Rollout.

UP NEXT

Did You Know? Fresno Is Home to One of the Nation’s Top Bonsai Exhibits

UP NEXT

Fresno Unified Trustees Expand Superintendent Search to Include External Candidates

Kate Hudson Had a Lifetime to Make a Record. The Result is ‘Glorious,’ Out in May

2 days ago

Long-Lost First Model of USS Enterprise from ‘Star Trek’ Boldly Goes Home

2 days ago

California Leaders Take Sides in Monumental Supreme Court Case on Homelessness

2 days ago

Man Sets Himself on Fire Outside Trump Hush Money Trial Court

2 days ago

McDonald’s Ice Cream Machines Are So Unreliable They’re a Meme. They Might Also Be a Climate Solution.

2 days ago

Real Estate Experts Talk Fresno’s Economic Future. Are Tough Times Ahead?

2 days ago

Unlocking the Secrets to Fresno State’s Superb Baseball Season

2 days ago

‘This Is How to Improve Reading Proficiency. We Just Have To Execute It’: FUSD Board President

2 days ago

Does Dyer Support (or Endorse) Bredefeld for Supervisor?

2 days ago

Get a 3D First Look at Merced’s High-Speed Rail Station Design

2 days ago

Surprising Ways and Places You Can Use SNAP EBT Food Benefits

Did you know that SNAP EBT benefits used to be called food stamps and that recipients can use those benefits to get healthy food in places o...

19 hours ago

19 hours ago

Surprising Ways and Places You Can Use SNAP EBT Food Benefits

19 hours ago

Californians Worry About Crime, Setting up a Ballot Measure Showdown

2 days ago

The Pickle Flavor Frenzy and Its Rise in Food Trends

2 days ago

Kate Hudson Had a Lifetime to Make a Record. The Result is ‘Glorious,’ Out in May

2 days ago

Long-Lost First Model of USS Enterprise from ‘Star Trek’ Boldly Goes Home

2 days ago

California Leaders Take Sides in Monumental Supreme Court Case on Homelessness

2 days ago

Man Sets Himself on Fire Outside Trump Hush Money Trial Court

2 days ago

McDonald’s Ice Cream Machines Are So Unreliable They’re a Meme. They Might Also Be a Climate Solution.

MENU

CONNECT WITH US

Search

Send this to a friend