With the federal government rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine’s first doses to Georgia and Fulton County starting Dec. 13, county officials said they’ve already seen instances where residents are doing what they can to get it before they’re eligible to, whether by accident or on purpose.
And a glitch on the Fulton website is allowing that to happen.
“I did have some constituents reach out to me by phone about the problems with the website,” District 6 Fulton Commissioner Khadijah Abdur-Rahman said. “The only thing I did want to say to you is whenever you have something like this, you’ll have people game the system, regardless of what you try to do.
“I just ask you remain diligent to make sure none of our healthcare workers who have to get the vaccine now have to go through any unnecessary (steps) to get the vaccine.”
Abdur-Rahman was one of several county officials who talked about the issue at the county board of commissioners’ Jan. 6 meeting, which was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Some confusion on who’s eligible for the vaccine may have arisen from Gov. Brian Kemp’s Dec. 30 announcement that Phase 1A has been expanded to include Georgians over 65 and first responders, but they can’t start getting it until Jan. 11.
District 3 Commissioner Lee Morris said a friend of his posted a message on Facebook about him and his wife receiving the vaccine at Mercedes-Benz Stadium even though they’re not part of the original Phase 1A group of individuals eligible for it (only healthcare and other front-line workers and long-term care facilities’ residents and staff).
“My Facebook friend said, ‘You had to make an appointment online. I think (I was allowed to get vaccinated because I’m) 65 and over. I was prepared to tell them I had a serious condition but they never asked.’ … I’m of that age, and I’m not interested in jumping the line but I don’t want others to jump the line.”
Dr. Lynn Paxton, Fulton’s district health director, said she’s aware of the website malfunction and the county is fixing it.
“This really came to a head yesterday,” she said. “... On the site … (healthcare workers) have to put in a license number and then only people who got a license number (will get vaccinated). I don’t want to go into too much right now about it, but there was a glitch where they could put in ‘not applicable’ or their telephone number but still getting through (to get vaccinated). …
“We’re going to email (those residents) and say there’s a discrepancy with this and please send us proof.”
Paxton said starting Jan. 6, at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium vaccination site, a Fulton employee will stand guard at the entrance to remind residents the county is not vaccinating individuals over 65 yet and is requiring those in the healthcare field to show a copy of their license.
“What this has shown me is it’s made me more cynical than I was before because no matter what, someone will try to game the system,” she said. “We’ve got to stop that because it’s not fair. All of those playing by the rules are being harmed by those jumping ahead. …
“It’s only going to get worse for us, because as we move into these other phases in which the definition will get vague, it’s easy to show your driver’s license with your date and you’re done, but how do you show you have a medical condition? Will we ask people to bring a doctor’s note? This isn’t easy. We’re all working on it. We are aware this is an issue.”
Paxton said the county has vaccination sites at the stadium plus one in north Fulton and another being set up at Fulton County Executive Airport at Brown Field (formerly Charlie Brown Airport) in south Fulton.
“We’re overloaded,” she said of residents’ vaccine dose demand. “I can’t sugarcoat that. We are working on increasing our call center capacity by increasing the number of lines and the number of people that can answer it. … We’re getting over 1,500 inquiries a day.”
Paxton said the county plans to eventually install three to four vaccination centers with up to 2,000 inoculations a day or 12,000 a week, but it’s starting slow.
“We aim to do 1,000 a day and build on that,” she said of the current situation. “Our goal is to get to that number by the end of January. We have to be ready for things like the 65-and-older (residents) being added to the list of people who can get vaccinated. We need to be as nimble as we can so we can react to these things happening.”
Paxton told all the commissioners not to give any residents special treatment on jumping ahead in line to get vaccinated, no matter how convincing their story might be.
“We ask you to please not offer to facilitate any (vaccination) appointments when you’re asked because we can’t do that,” she said. “We don’t want to be put in that position.”