Many New Jersey residents desperate to get the COVID-19 vaccine made online appointments to get vaccinated at various Hackensack Meridian Health facilities. The only problem is, some of them are not eligible for the vaccine under the state’s plan to limit who gets the shot for now to healthcare workers, first responders and nursing home staff and residents.
While it’s not clear exactly what happened, it appears that the website where first responders were invited to schedule appointments is publicly accessible and might have been shared amongst people who didn’t qualify as 1A or 1B categories.
“We’ve had a handful of people who showed up who were not eligible as a front line health care worker or a first responder. We informed those people that they can sign up once we open the vaccine process to the general public, as determined by state and federal guidelines,” Hackensack Meridian Health said in a statement Monday.
“We have added additional educational information as well as enhanced ID requirements to ensure that only those eligible for the vaccine receive it, in accordance with New Jersey and federal guidelines,” the statement said.
Anyone who signed up will be contacted and told not to come unless the person can prove he or she is a health care worker or first responder, according to the health system.
It’s not easy to schedule vaccinations for the hundreds of thousands of health care workers and first responders in New Jersey. Trying to make sure the people showing up to get the shot are actually eligible could only complicate the process, officials have noted.
To that end, state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said at a press briefing Monday that the state is not requiring people to show documentation of their eligibility.
“We are trusting the integrity of all of you to do the right thing in this regard and not `jump the line,’” she said. “We know everyone is anxious and we’re asking for your patience as we await a larger supply of vaccines.”
It’s not clear whether many facilities are following this policy. A Hackensack Meridian Health spokeswoman said identification is required at its facilities.
Persichilli noted that the documentation could slow down the process and the state would like to keep vaccinations “a positive experience.”
The state is doing a balancing act, trying to get as many high-risk people vaccinated as quickly as possible to avoid wasting a drop of the vaccine that can go bad over time, while dealing with a limited supply of vaccine that comes weekly the federal government.
The doses given out to people represent about 37% of the more than 572,250 doses the state has received from the U.S. government, according to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The state’s goal is to get 70% of the population vaccinated in six months. The public can pre-register to receive the vaccine when they qualify on the state’s website.
Staff writer Karin Price-Mueller contributed to this story.
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