The WFH set makes use of the entry codes for COVID vaccines.

A California program to improve the availability of COVID-19 vaccines to people in severely affected color communities is being abused by outsiders making appointments for residents of underserved Black and Latino areas.

The Vaccine Distribution Inequalities Program is based on special access codes that people can use to schedule appointments on the My Turn website for vaccine scheduling. The codes are made available to community organizations to distribute to people in predominantly black and Latin American communities.

But these codes were also circulated in group texts and messages among the wealthier work-from-home sets in Los Angeles, The Times has learned. Many of these people are not yet eligible for the vaccine under government regulations.

Some people who were able to make appointments went to Cal State Los Angeles to get the recordings.

It is unclear how the codes got into the hands of outsiders, but the situation has forced the state to make efforts to protect the integrity of a share program extolled by Governor Gavin Newsom and other officials. The state has canceled appointments made with at least one of the access codes after The Times inquired about it last week.

The introduction of fairness in the vaccine distribution process has had a major impact on the introduction of vaccines in California. Newsom has spoken many times about the importance of giving vaccines “through a justice lens.” However, deep inequalities still exist in vaccine delivery in the state. White and Asian residents in affluent areas are much more likely to be vaccinated than black and Latinos in poorer areas.

As part of the plan, the state intends to include a block of appointments each day in Cal State LA and the Oakland Coliseum, according to an email sent to partners in the community by the director of the Office of Access and Functional Needs for the California governor’s office Emergency services.

The appointment block can only be accessed with a certain code, which changes regularly depending on the use and the e-mail.

The codes are for people in color communities eligible for vaccines, including healthcare workers and people over 65 who may otherwise have difficulty getting an appointment.

Brian Ferguson, spokesman for Cal OES, has contacted state officials from over 2,000 community groups interested in participating in the program.

However, early last week, shortly after the codes became available, there were problems with the program.

According to The Times, three separate access codes for vulnerable populations in Los Angeles have moved a long way from their intended recipients and have made their way onto more affluent professional and social networks. In all cases, the origin of the access codes remained unclear. Those who distributed the codes did not appear to be aware that they were intended for severely affected communities. In some cases, people thought they had come across a pilot program that was open to all.

A person who shared an access code with The Times on Thursday said several of the person’s friends who otherwise weren’t allowed were able to use the code to schedule vaccine appointments at the Cal State LA location. Several of those people had been vaccinated by Sunday evening, said the person who asked not to be identified because they didn’t want to offend friends who shared the code. The person who is white described his friends as also white and “in a bracket that they are very protected in”.

Another person speaking with The Times said they received a screenshot of a message Tuesday morning with a seven-digit access code and a link to the My Turn website. A friend of the doctor sent the link for COVID-19 vaccine appointments, the original sender wrote. “Apparently this is a new test site that tests their system for a few days before opening appointments for the elderly, the sick and so on. Anyone can register when appointments are available. Try it!”

The code worked when a Times reporter tried Tuesday morning and opened a page that allowed a person to schedule an appointment at the newly opened Cal State LA community vaccination center. Another person who spoke to The Times on the same day said they had received the passcode from a friend and did not know how the friend got it.

The stated purpose of the access codes is not stated on the My Turn website, nor is it stated on the website that the codes are intended for specific groups only. Even with an access code, the actual appointment slots are limited and are not always available on the website.

The program interruption is the latest example of inequality in a pandemic defined by its disproportionate impact on low-income color communities. The same issues were mirrored in the county’s informal vaccine lines, where large groups of mostly white people often camp for hours outside a clinic in south LA in hopes of a shot.

Ferguson admitted that there had been instances where a community group had forwarded the code to their membership “in a very well-intentioned manner” and the email was then released to the general public.

“To address this issue, we have taken steps to ensure that we review and monitor how the codes are being used very carefully,” he said, explaining that the program was new and that the challenges were being addressed.

By Monday night, the codes had spread so quickly through certain social networks that a woman in her forties who lives near downtown Los Angeles told the Times that she had been sent three codes from different people in the past few days .

She refused to make an appointment, but knew several people – whom she described as white and “non-essential workers” – who had been successfully vaccinated with the codes. “Nobody thinks they are doing anything wrong,” said the woman, who refused to give her name because she did not want to offend those who shared the code with her.

“You have honestly convinced yourself to believe that these are leftovers, that these are pilot tests that are open to all.”

The code adoption also sparked outrage.

“People get greedy and clash, first in line and pushing out those who die and need them most,” said Dr. Don Garcia, Medical Director at Clínica Romero. His community clinic provides health services in Boyle Heights and Pico-Union for mostly Spanish-speaking Latinos and Indians from Mexico and Central America.

Garcia drew a straight line between the access code abuse and the wider digital divide that has handicapped many in the community where he sets vaccine appointments. Even with code specifically designed for them, the people who died in great numbers were still overwhelmed by savvy digital natives with fast internet speeds and free time to refresh a computer screen.

Times staffer John Myers contributed to this report.

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