Md. ‘Vaccine Hunters’ raise ID, eligibility issues at retail COVID-19 vaccine sites

A group of Montgomery County, Maryland, teachers who volunteer to help people access COVID-19 vaccines say some residents are being singled out at pharmacies and asked to provide multiple forms of identification to prove their eligibility when that’s not the case.

Known as “The Vaccine Hunters,” the group helps people get access to COVID-19 vaccine appointments. Maisie Lynch, a Montgomery County teacher and one of the group’s organizers, told reporters that immigrants — documented and undocumented — “have gone to retail pharmacies and are being asked for paperwork that is not being asked of other folks, especially white folks.”

At a Monday briefing with Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker and Vice President Gabe Albornoz, Lynch said her group has been getting calls from people who have been refused vaccinations, even though they had appointments and showed their emails or text messages verifying they signed up to be vaccinated.

In one case, Lynch said two clergy members brought W-2 forms to confirm their eligibility for vaccination, “and they were told that they had to have a letter from their employer.” When a member of the Vaccine Hunters got on the phone with the pharmacist, Lynch said the pharmacist confirmed that the two clergy members were indeed eligible for their vaccinations.

“What was happening,” said Lynch, was “the person that was the gatekeeper at the front was denying access based on his understanding of the rules.”

“This doesn’t appear to be just a single incident,” Hucker said. “We don’t know how widespread this is, but to have multiple incidents like this come up with the same storyline behind them is really, really troubling.”

Albornoz said the incidents could prevent Maryland’s hardest-hit residents, many of whom are immigrants already anxious to provide identification, from getting vaccinated against the coronavirus, which has hit their communities especially hard.

“All it takes is one negative experience for that to spread among a community, making it even less likely that more people will come forward to address these issues,” Albornoz said.

Vaccine Hunter members said the incidents were reported at retail pharmacies, not at the state’s mass vaccination sites or county-run health department vaccination locations.

They also stated that many retail pharmacies their volunteers have contacted have helped ensure patients could navigate the vaccination process. Yet, there are cases reported where it appeared rules were either misinterpreted or disregarded.

Amy Thibault, senior manager of Corporate Communications for CVS Health, confirmed one of the incidents happened at a pharmacy in White Plains, Maryland. However, it was her understanding that one person did have an appointment, but the second did not.

The Vaccine Hunters dispute Thibault’s account, insisting both clients had appointments. Thibault said both recipients eventually got vaccinated.

Thibault said those who get an appointment at the retail outlets should not be turned away if they don’t have an ID, and they do not have to prove that they are eligible. Patients are asked about eligibility during the initial online sign-up process, but that does not have to be verified when the client shows up for a vaccine.

“We are relying on the patient to answer the questions accurately” during the online sign-up process, “and that’s the only time they’ll be asked about eligibility,” Thibault said. They should not be quizzed about that when they arrive to a pharmacy for their appointment.

Thibault explained pharmacies performing the vaccinations have to attest to the fact that they asked for identification as part of a federal requirement, even though recipients aren’t required to show their ID.

“If a person doesn’t have an ID with them or doesn’t feel comfortable sharing their ID, they will not be turned away,” Thibault said. “We 100% want to make sure that everyone gets this vaccine as quickly as possible. ”

Lynch and the Vaccine Hunters want to see a hotline residents can call to get answers to questions about the vaccines and vaccination process. She also said the group would like to see signage list exactly what kind of documentation vaccine recipients need to have at vaccination sites run by private providers, as well as county and state locations.

The Maryland Department of Health posted a list of items to bring to your vaccination appointment on its COVIDLINK website’s FAQ section.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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