Wealthy, White People Are Using Vaccine Access Codes Meant for Underserved Communities

A state program intended to address inequity in the vaccine rollout has reportedly been exploited

White people in affluent Los Angeles neighborhoods are taking advantage of a state program intended to make COVID-19 vaccinations more accessible to hard-hit Black and Latino communities.

According to an investigation by the Los Angeles Times, special access codes meant to give people in underserved communities of color priority in scheduling vaccination appointments through the state’s My Turn website have been appropriated by the same Angelenos who have already received a disproportionate share of available shots.

The plan was intended to reserve a daily block of appointments at the Cal State L.A. and Oakland Coliseum vaccination sites for people who are already eligible for vaccinations under current California rules, but who may have a hard time getting an appointment due to the class and racial disparities, including unequal access to the time and technology required to book the in-demand appointments.

Although it’s not known exactly how the codes first leaked to outsiders, they have reportedly circulated in group texts among people working from home and living out the pandemic in relative comfort—including some who don’t even meet current eligibility criteria.

The problem has called into question the program’s integrity, forcing the state to cancel appointments made with at least one of the codes when the Times asked about it last week.

While some of the program’s unintended beneficiaries understand it was implemented for groups who have not gotten their fair share of limited healthcare resources, many claim they were unaware they had done anything improper.

One code sharer, who is white, told the Times he had given it to friends who are also white and “in a bracket where they’re very protected.”

Codes were being trafficked so heavily on social media that a woman in her 40s who lives near downtown L.A. said she had already received them from three different people and that several of her friends—who she described as white and “not essential workers”—had already been vaccinated using the codes.

Another recipient says he got a screenshot of the seven-digit access number from a doctor friend who had received it from a sender who wrote, “Apparently it’s a new testing site that is ‘testing out their system’ for a few days before they open up appointments for the elderly and sick, etc. Anyone can sign up if there are appointments available. Give it a try!”

That code worked Tuesday morning when a Times reporter tried it at the My Turn site, which didn’t indicate that the codes were meant for any specific group of people, but even with the code, appointment slots were still limited.

Brian Ferguson, spokesman for the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, told the Times that program administrators were aware that the codes had reached the general public and that some community groups shared them with their members “in a very well-intentioned way,” but said it was a new program and the problems are being addressed.

“We’ve taken steps to ensure we’re auditing, monitoring how the codes are used very carefully,” he said.

RELATED: Here’s What You Need to Know About When and How to Get a COVID Vaccination in L.A.

Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.