As Mecklenburg County Public Health officials work to distribute doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, following a changing set of guidelines and groups put in place by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS), some residents remain confused as to who can get vaccinated when, leading to mistaken vaccinations.
The issues were highlighted this week when a 50-year-old woman went and received her first dose of vaccination at Bojangles’ Coliseum at the direction of her employer, only to later find that she was not legally allowed to.
The county recently updated its vaccine program to include five easy-to-identify groups of people to be scheduled for vaccinations, rather than the previous scheduling by subgroups. County health officials are currently offering vaccinations to Group 1, which includes health-care workers with in-patient contact and staff and residents at long-term care facilities, and Group 2, which includes anyone over the age of 65, regardless of health condition or living situation.
In a Jan. 19 press conference, county medical director Dr. Meg Sullivan said the county has only 1,500 vaccine appointments available a week, separately from Novant Health and Atrium Health. The recent change in the Group 2 age minimum from 75 to 65 years old added an estimated 80,000 Mecklenburg County residents who can now potentially be vaccinated.
There have been questions around distribution since the announcement of the Pfizer vaccine roll out on who should be allowed to receive the vaccine and when, as came to light in December when Hunter Saenz of WCNC reported that Atrium Health was offering vaccine appointments to non-patient-facing employees while other critical groups remained in the queue.
A Facebook post calls qualifications into question
A Mecklenburg County resident raised more questions on Wednesday when she made a now-deleted Facebook post stating she had just received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine earlier in the day, despite being just 50 years old.
Queen City Nerve called the woman who made the post to inquire whether she had some other qualification for receiving the vaccine. She said she believed she did, and had been encouraged to sign up for a vaccination by her employer, the Carolina Meat & Fish Company (CMFC).
She admitted she had to lie in her application by stating she was 75 years old or older, but thought she was included in one of the subgroups marked in the original vaccination plan.
“I just marked myself as over 75 because they had not updated their website to include my age group yet,” she told Queen City Nerve.
Her bosses at CMFC had referred her to the vaccine appointment website, believing their employees qualified under their interpretation of the CDC guidelines for the vaccine phases, which were just recommendations and did not completely align with the county implementations of distribution. They did not direct her to lie about her age.
The woman went to Bojangles’ Coliseum to get a first dose of the vaccine on Jan. 20. Like any patient at the drive-thru site, she was not required to show identification.
Following false directions
Though she thought it was odd that she had to state she was 75 years old or older when she originally booked the appointment, she did not think she had done anything wrong, she insisted. She went home and posted it on Facebook, which is when some of her followers began to question how she could have gotten a vaccine that is reserved for a select few Mecklenburg County residents.
“I advocate for people to take the vaccine because I think this is important, that is why I wanted to make a post about it,” the woman told Queen City Nerve.
Queen City Nerve reached out to CMFC about why they had directed employees of all ages to sign up for the vaccine. The Ballantyne market sent a statement explaining they believed the employee and others who worked there to be included in Phase 1B of the CDC guidelines and the original North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) rollout, which included frontline essential workers.
“As part of the rollout of the NCDHHS COVID-19 Vaccine, our employee qualified to be vaccinated under CDC and NCDHHS guidelines for Phase 1B, Group 2, Essential Workers of a certain age. Our employee works for us and is in close contact, within 6 feet, of retail customers,” the statement read.
Frontline essential workers were originally included in Phase 1B, Group 2 of the NCDHHS vaccination plan, but were moved to Group 3 in December.
A company rep told Queen City Nerve they spoke with Mecklenburg County Public Health on Wednesday and have since informed their employees of the latest vaccination updates.
Mecklenburg County vaccinations need no ID
According to Mecklenburg County spokesperson Andrew Fair, identification is not required to receive the vaccine, though it’s recommended that a patient show their health insurance information or proof of employment if they are in a patient-facing health-care role.
“People have tried to make appointments by applying outside of the guidelines,” he said. “We have found people who have tried to schedule an appointment for a group that doesn’t match the birthdate that they registered with, and we have had to deny them.”
He could not confirm the number of times this has happened.
Fair said that, while health-insurance cards can sometimes help expose a scammer, MCPH mostly operates under the assumption that people who are scheduling their vaccine appointments are not misrepresenting their age in order to receive a vaccine ahead of their designated phase or group.
“The state does not require individuals to present an ID as it may present a barrier to getting the vaccine for some individuals,” an MCPH spokesperson wrote in an email on Thursday. “[Mecklenburg County] Public Health is trusting the community to follow the process to get the most at-risk individuals vaccinated first.”
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