The drive-thru vaccination clinic at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds last month.
The drive-thru vaccination clinic at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds last month.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)
Vaccine Watch

People from as far away as LA try to ‘game the system’ at Santa Cruz County vaccination site

Hundreds of people under the age of 65 — and some from as far away as Los Angeles — signed up for the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds vaccination clinic, causing “mass confusion and panic” and prompting officials to restructure the event.

Health officials had to cancel 1,000 appointments for Wednesday’s mass vaccination clinic at the Santa Cruz County fairgrounds after discovering that the majority of appointments were made by people who did not meet the clinic criteria.

The clinic was supposed to serve Santa Cruz County seniors, with a special focus on those in South County. Any resident from phase 1A, any resident over 75, and those over 65 from certain South County ZIP codes (95019, 95076, 95077) were eligible. The county had infrastructure in place to deliver 1,000 COVID-19 vaccines, and all 1,000 appointments filled within 24 hours through an internet registration system.

But upon closer inspection it became clear that most of these appointments came from people who were trying to “game the system,” apparently by the weblink being circulated well outside Santa Cruz County.

“As our staff reviewed who was registering for [a vaccine], it was clear that more than half were under 65, over 100 lived as far as LA or Yolo County,” county public health director Mimi Hall said in a press conference on Thursday. “It was really clear that people had learned to game the system, even though we were very careful to work with our community partners to serve South County seniors.”

Sign-ups were made through a Safeway scheduling system, which the county uses to create discrete links for each fairgrounds vaccination clinic.

“I’m not sure people are really intentionally line jumping, it’s just everybody wants a vaccine,” Hall told Lookout in a phone call following the press conference. “If my grandma forwarded me a link of ‘here’s how to sign up,’ yeah, I’m going to sign up.”

Between drug stores; the multicounty entities (MCEs) Dignity Health/Dominican, Sutter Health/PAMF and Kaiser; and county...

After making this discovery, health officials had to cancel all 1,000 of the appointments and reschedule the 300 or so that were legitimate.

Eventually, approximately 500 eligible people were registered and vaccinated on Wednesday — but at a clinic that was set up to vaccinate 1,000. Still, the incident caused “mass confusion and panic,” Hall said.

No doses were wasted, according to Hall; they’ll be used at one of several other sites that are vaccinating people using doses that the county is distributing. Click here for a complete list of these and other vaccination sites.

County health officials stressed that this period of vaccine scarcity won’t last forever, but while supply is limited they are focused on vaccinating those who are most likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19.

A joint statement from Bay Area health officers, including Santa Cruz County health officer Dr. Gail Newel, stated that a vaccine “offered to a resident above age 75 is 300 times more likely to save a life than a vaccine offered to someone under the age of 50.”

Dr. David Ghilarducci, the county’s deputy public health officer, helped administer vaccines at the Wednesday vaccination clinic. “The frustrating part is, I would see a carload of people come in with an elderly family member, and I would have loved to have given everybody in that car a shot,” he said. “Instead, we had to target the vaccine, and I look forward to the day when we don’t have to do that.”