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DJ With Covid-19 Vaccine Waiting Lists in the Millions, Some Skip the Line

· 02/06/2021 05:30
By Scott Calvert and Cameron McWhirter

Board members of a Rhode Island medical system were invited to get vaccinated, regardless of their age or occupations. Judges and their staff received vaccines ahead of schedule at a Nevada medical center. And a SoulCycle fitness instructor in New York got a shot after saying she was an educator.

While millions of Americans await their turn during the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, some people are securing the coveted injections before they are eligible by tapping connections or circumventing their states' rules. Government officials have criticized the line-cutters, prosecutors in at least two states have launched reviews and some hospitals have had their vaccine allotments curtailed by health authorities as punishment for questionable vaccination practices.

Each state -- and even some local jurisdictions -- have set up different rules for who gets vaccinated first and where they are distributed. In addition to vaccine supply shortages, the lack of a centralized registration system in many areas has set off a scramble for doses.

As of Thursday, about 35.2 million doses had been administered in the U.S., out of about 57.5 million doses delivered, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Distribution roadblocks have caused a slower-than-expected pace of vaccinations.

In Rhode Island, Attorney General Peter Neronha is investigating whether two health-care networks vaccinated employees and others in accordance with state eligibility rules. "There has been particular concern regarding the vaccination of board members, trustees and administrative employees who primarily telework," he wrote to executives of Lifespan and Care New England in a letter viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

"A small amount of bad optics can shake confidence in the system," Mr. Neronha, a Democrat, said in an interview. "In Rhode Island, which has the reputation of being the ultimate 'know a guy' state, because it's so small and nobody ever leaves, that lack of confidence is really exacerbated."

Lifespan said board members were offered vaccinations the second weekend in January, when the health system opened up eligibility to employees who didn't interact with patients and to volunteers. "We have been working closely with [the state Department of Health] and carefully followed their guidance from the start," a spokeswoman said. Care New England didn't comment.

A state health-department spokesman said hospitals were allowed to vaccinate their whole organization, including radiology staff, off-site employees and volunteers, noting that they are "active in the operation of a hospital."

Jay Egge, an 84-year-old retiree in Barrington, R.I., said it angered him to hear about hospital trustees and board members receiving shots. He said he hasn't had any luck getting inoculated despite a host of medical ailments that make him highly vulnerable to Covid-19.

"If I'm in a line trying to get my fried clam sandwich and some idiot jumps in front of me, I don't like it. It's just the same thing," he said. But when it comes to Covid-19, "I am afraid for survival."

Some officials said because the rollout has involved so many jurisdictions with different rules, timelines and supplies, it has been impossible for states or the federal government to ensure everyone is following the rules.

"We're not the vaccine police," said Max Reiss, spokesman for Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat. "We're putting a lot of trust in local providers to make sure they're vaccinating the most at-risk people in their communities."

Stacey Griffith, a SoulCycle instructor, was lambasted on social media after identifying herself as an educator so she could be vaccinated at a Staten Island, N.Y., clinic, then publicizing her gambit on Instagram.

"I made a terrible error in judgment and for that I am truly sorry," she posted Feb. 1. She didn't respond to requests for comment. A SoulCycle spokeswoman said the company doesn't encourage its employees to seek vaccines as educators.

"It doesn't sound like someone who should have gotten vaccinated to me," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said when asked about Ms. Griffith at a news conference.

After judges and staff with the municipal court in Reno, Nev., got vaccine shots at a medical clinic, City Manager Douglas Thornley said the court employees had used personal relationships to skirt Nevada guidelines.

"It is unconscionable to me that anyone would put their interests before those who need the vaccine first: among them our health care workers, first responders and seniors who are 70 and older," he said in a statement. "For at-risk groups, the vaccine could mean life or death."

The judge involved in securing the shots didn't respond to requests for comment.

In DeKalb County, Ga., which includes part of Atlanta and a portion of its suburbs, health workers found that some people who were issued QR codes that enabled them to sign up for a vaccine appointment then shared them with friends, said S. Elizabeth Ford, the county's district health director.

"They brag about it on social media," she said in an interview. "I've been shocked."

Hundreds of people have gone to county vaccination centers with copies of the QR codes, claiming to be properly registered, Dr. Ford said. County workers cross-referenced codes with actual registrations and withheld shots from people lacking approval.

Beyond questions of legality and fairness, line-cutting erodes public trust in this historic vaccine rollout, said Johns Hopkins University biomedical ethicist Ruth Faden.

"Part of the reason people shouldn't use their social advantage and their power is precisely because it undermines the whole system," she said. "Why should I follow the rules if rich people, connected people, powerful people are breaking the rules?"

--Katie Honan contributed to this article.

Write to Scott Calvert at scott.calvert@wsj.com and Cameron McWhirter at cameron.mcwhirter@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 06, 2021 05:30 ET (10:30 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.