The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) announced Thursday that those in the next COVID-19 vaccination phase will not have to present proof of their disability or condition to receive the vaccine.
The next vaccination phase, scheduled to open up Monday, will open up vaccination eligibility to those with disabilities and severe health conditions, as well as those who could develop a severe health condition due to COVID-19.
Among the disabilities and severe health issues covered in the next phase are pregnancy, sickle cell disease, down syndrome, active cancer with a weakened immune system, type 2 diabetes with a hemoglobin A1c level above 7.5%, stage 4 or worse chronic kidney disease, debilitating obesity, solid organ transplants with a weakened immune system, oxygen dependent chronic pulmonary disease, and certain heart conditions. In addition, if COVID-19 in an individual would lead to a life-threatening disease or death, limit their ability to receive care for their well-being, or would be challenging to manage due to their disability, they will also be eligible.
In total, the number of Californians expected to be covered in the next phase are estimated to be at 4.4 million according to the CDPH.
However, despite early hints by officials that those in the next phase would need proof or documentation of their health issues, it was ultimately dropped in favor of a self-attested rule that simply requires those in line to sign a paper saying that they have one of the listed conditions for the phase.
Many groups lobbied hard to not have the process require documentation; primarily disability rights advocates who said that they wanted a barrier-free process that wouldn’t encourage line-jumping or other situations at vaccination centers where people slated for lower phases found ways to receive vaccines early.
California health officials also pushed for the documentation-free style, but based it on a matter of confidentiality for those receiving vaccines rather than remove to hurdles for those who are in the vaccination phase.
“To protect confidentiality, verification documentation of the diagnosis or type of disability is not required but instead anyone meeting the eligibility requirements will be asked to sign a self-attestation that they meet the criteria for high-risk medical conditions or disabilities,” said the CDPH on Thursday.
Issues with a documentation-free vaccination tier
However, many are now claiming that self-attest will do little to prevent others from simply claiming they have one or more of the covered conditions to receive the vaccine.
“There’s no hard data on how many people have already gotten the vaccine by faking conditions and forging documents,” explained Brittany Gates, a nurse who has assisted in administering the COVID-19 vaccine to Californians since last year. “But there have been countless cases covered in the news. I know I have administered healthy people who were not health care workers or essential workers before. We actually have had cases where people have digitally erased and written over names on sheets from employers marking another person as essential, but, due to the volume of appointments, had let it go.”
“This is just going to create a bigger flood of desperate people by giving them a much more easier way around the current protections we have to ensure that people in the right phases are allowed. We’re still overwhelmed as is. Do you have any idea what this will do? Give everybody who wants one an in?”
“We need to vaccinate as many people as possible as quickly as possible, but we have a phase schedule so we don’t become inundated and to protect those more at-risk first. The new boundaries come Monday don’t do that.”
With vaccine doses still limited and in great demand, and now with the upcoming addition of a phase that can easily include many people not in the phase jumping in, health officials began warning ahead of Monday that there may just not be enough vaccines or appointments for everyone.
“Like we say every time we’re opening for a new sector, we have limited supplies still,” added LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer at a press conference earlier this week. “Eligibility does not guarantee an appointment.”
As of Friday, it remains unknown when other vaccination phases will open up beyond the March 15th phase opening.