LOS ANGELES — A California program intended to improve COVID-19 vaccine availability to people in hard-hit communities of color is being misused by outsiders who are grabbing appointments reserved for residents of underserved Black and Latino areas.
The program to address inequities in vaccine distribution relies on special access codes that enable people to make appointments on the My Turn vaccine scheduling website. The codes are provided to community organizations to distribute to people in largely Black and Latino communities.
But those codes have also been circulating, in group texts and messages, among the wealthier, work-from-home set in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times has learned. Many of those people are not yet eligible for the vaccine under state rules.
Some people able to make appointments have been driving to Cal State Los Angeles to get the shots.
It’s unclear how the codes got into the hands of outsiders, but the situation has forced the state to scramble to protect the integrity of an equity program that Gov. Gavin Newsom and other officials have been hailing. The state canceled appointments made with at least one of the access codes after the Times inquired about it last week.
Establishing fairness in the vaccine distribution process has loomed large over California’s vaccine rollout. Newsom has often spoken about the importance of administering vaccines “through an equity lens.” But deep inequities have still emerged in vaccine administration in the state, with white and Asian residents in affluent areas being inoculated at much higher rates than Black and Latino people in poorer areas.
Under the plan, the state aims to set aside a block of appointments every day at Cal State L.A. and the Oakland Coliseum, according to an email sent to community partners from the director of the Office of Access and Functional Needs at the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
The block of appointments are only accessible with a specific code, which will change periodically based on usage, according to the email.
The codes are intended for use by people in communities of color who are vaccine eligible, including health care workers and those older than 65, but who might otherwise struggle to get an appointment.
State officials have been contacted by over 2,000 community groups interested in participating in the program, according to Cal OES spokesperson Brian Ferguson.