Los Angeles County is still having a hard time hitting its targets for vaccinations among minorities and in low-income communities. With that in mind, the county government came up with a plan. In addition to outreach programs designed to convince the hesitant that the vaccine is safe and effective, they set up special pods (Points of Distribution) in those communities. Residents were supposed to be able to access a special code online to obtain one of a limited number of appointments for residents over the age of 65 and healthcare workers. The codes were only made available one day before the pods opened for business. But when people started showing up for their appointments, a curious sight caught the eye of the County Commissioner. Wealthy people from Hollywood and Beverly Hills were standing in line with valid appointments. Needless to say, this didn’t go over very well.
Some people outside of specifically targeted communities for vaccine outreach have been obtaining access codes for vaccination clinics in those neighborhoods.
They were able to essentially jump the line, drawing judgment from L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis, who called the behavior “disgusting.”
“I am not surprised. I’m disgusted,” Solis said during a Board of Supervisors discussion of the COVID vaccination effort. “And I’m not disgusted at the work that we’re doing, but I’m more disgusted about the behavior of people in the public that are not being responsible.”
How this happened wasn’t a mystery. As soon as the code was released, it began being spread around on social media and message boards. The rich and famous who had been unable to make an appointment in their own neighborhoods (where demand is much higher) quickly “pounced” on the opportunity and began taking up slots in the targeted communities.
We’re talking about South Central Los Angeles here, where there are significant minority populations, higher crime rates and gang violence. These aren’t the neighborhoods where you normally see the denizens of Beverly Hills going out for a stroll. They obviously had to be pretty desperate for a shot, so they gamed the system. But is that the only factor at play?
First of all, the code system was flawed from the beginning. Everyone using the standard “My Turn” appointment system is required to provide their name and address so they can make an appointment at the center located in their specific location. But these special pods bypassed all of that so anyone who had the code could sign in. Now they’re scrambling to figure out a way to issue individual codes to residents, a plan which sounds overly complicated if they could have just checked the addresses of applicants when they signed up for these closed pods.
Even if the online code plan had been flawless, it’s not clear that the pods wouldn’t have wound up with a lot of leftover doses. While trust in the vaccines in California’s Black population has risen a bit since December, it’s still significantly behind other racial groups. Potentially compounding the problem is the fact that they set up these pods in a way that the only option to make an appointment was online using a code that was only available online. These neighborhoods have some of the lowest rates of reliable internet access. Combine those factors together and you’ve opened the door for people with more reliable web access and social media contacts to take advantage of it.
Since the county is well aware of all the zip codes involved, wouldn’t it be easier to just send out postcards through the mail inviting people to call a number and make an appointment? At least that way they would know they were targeting the intended neighborhoods and find out who was willing to come down for a jab. The bottom line here is that we are once again dealing with a situation where the supply of vaccines isn’t the major hurdle to overcome. It’s government bungling and incompetence.