COVID-19 vaccine providers fighting Ohioans cutting in line to get the shot

NBC4 Investigates

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — With more people becoming eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, some are finding it easier to cut the lines by cheating the system in order to get vaccinated before they’re allowed to under Ohio Department of Health (ODH) guidelines.

NBC4 Investigates confirmed that people have misrepresented themselves on online vaccine scheduling portals, lying about having a qualifying job or health condition to get an appointment.

Jack Long, who serves as managing digital editor for The Ohio State University’s student news outlet, The Lantern, received a tip during the first week of March that students who did not qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine were still able to book appointments.

Long logged onto OSU Wexner Medical Center’s patient portal, which all patients and OSU students can access. He completed the steps to schedule a vaccine appointment, testifying that he had a qualifying occupation without having to answer any further questions. Long stopped short of clicking “schedule” to finalize the appointment.

“We were shocked that it could be that you could schedule it and that you could essentially lie,” Long said.

In his reporting, Long said he confirmed multiple OSU students without medical conditions or occupations to make them eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine successfully scheduled appointments to receive the shot at OSUWMC.

“Individuals must schedule a vaccination appointment only if they meet the eligibility criteria set by the state of Ohio. It is disappointing and unacceptable that anyone would misrepresent themselves in order to receive a vaccine prematurely,” said OSU spokesperson Benjamin Johnson in an emailed statement.

“The one thing is we have not yet been able to do is verify that they’ve gotten their vaccines,” Long said.

According to multiple vaccine providers, including OSUWMC, there’s not much that can be done to prevent ineligible people from getting vaccinated.

Marti Leitch, an OSUWMC spokesperson, said the issue is statewide. She directed NBC4 Investigates to specific ODH guidance given to providers:

“The State of Ohio is not requiring any additional documentation for proof of eligibility; however, providers may develop their own screening and monitoring procedures to evaluate eligibility.

– Providers should confirm with the patient that they have one of the qualifying conditions verbally or on their screening or registration forms.

– Providers will not be required to collect or submit additional forms; however, patients/occupations falling into these groups will be identified by providers submitting target population and occupation (TP/O) checklist data.”

Ohio Department of Health COVID-19 vaccination guidelines

Columbus Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts said putting such procedures in place might not be easy or ethical for providers.

“Asking someone to have verification of their medical condition specifically, will present a huge barrier to many in our population,” Roberts said, pointing to minority and low-income populations that don’t have consistent or reliable access to a health care provider.

“Ohioans should know that vaccines are being rolled out strategically to specific groups that have been identified in effort to help save the most lives,” said Alicia Shoults, a spokesperson for ODH, in an email. “If someone is dishonest and tries to jump ahead in the prioritization process, a vulnerable Ohioan may be left behind without a lifesaving vaccine.”

Roberts also confirmed instances in which people have misrepresented themselves in an attempt to get vaccinated sooner.

“Some individuals have tried to say they work in a school and qualify for K-12, and we’ve identified some of those and been able to remove them from getting a vaccine,” Roberts said.

Roberts said she is unaware of any circumstances in which someone lied about a medical condition in order to get vaccinated.

“(The state) trusted the residents of Ohio that they would all do the right thing, and only come forward to get the vaccine when it was their turn. And I, in turn, would ask our residents to do the same thing,” Roberts said.

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