Intended to solve inequities in vaccine distribution, California's system was abused to vaccinate the white and wealthy

Originally published at: Intended to solve inequities in vaccine distribution, California's system was abused to vaccinate the white and wealthy | Boing Boing


I have to say that I did get a hold of one of those codes last week and it was confusing. To be clear: I DID NOT SIGN UP FOR AN APPOINTMENT. But I did poke around because I’ve been a professional beta tester and having used the LA County site to set up my fully qualified mother for vaccination, I was curious.

It was sent to me with the info that a “new vaccination site under FEMA was opening up and needed to populate their first few days of appointments.”

When you go to the CA run “MyTurn” site you enter the basic info about where you are, your age and demographic (racial) profile, your job and finally your ZIP. You include the code in the form. When I tried it (actually several times with various demo info, all for white people of different ages under 65 in both LA and neighboring LA cities within the county).

Then it says that you qualify. And gives you appointments that are available.

So without any context, a decent person who wasn’t well versed with that our current Tier is might think that they are actually entitled to this. Because they freely provided demo info and the system says that they may “check ID and supporting documentation.”

There is nothing in the system that says what the code is, who it was intended for, so if given one of these codes, it’s impossible to know.

I knew better, and I think that others who were educated enough about the current vaccine situation should have known better. I also know that this was very poorly programmed.


I noticed that the One Medical office down the street (Oakland, CA) was vaccinating hundreds of people in late January and early February, very few of whom appeared to be over 65 or first responders. And, of course, they were pretty much all white. I guess I was right.


Yeah - that was me. Someone texted me a code saying it was a new location (true) and that “they’re testing the infrastructure for the big rollout,” I entered my age, zip, profession, etc and it went through. I had an appointment! Then I saw the LA Times Article and I canceled the appointment.

I don’t understand why, at the very least, there isn’t a field that says “this code is intended for x, y, z. Please check this box to confirm that you are x, y, or z)”. I won’t weed out bad actors but, at the very least, it would prevent people from jumping queue accidentally like I almost did.


Even in “liberal” (ha!) California the is a ruling class where the normal rules don’t apply.

At least we’re mad about it and talking about it. Denial has always been the first and most difficult step to overcome.


real simple solution…


Mass incarceration of those who use the codes

Yes, I’m being sarcastic

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It wasn’t clear to me from the article who was texting/emailing the access codes inappropriately. Who was sending out the codes and saying that “they’re testing the system” when that wasn’t true? And why were they doing that? In the case of the labor union, they said that they texted/emailed the codes to a limited number of people, which was an appropriate use of the codes. So who are the bad actors broadcasting the codes inappropriately?

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My local One Medical (San Jose) office has definitely not sent me codes or offered vaccinations to either of us, if that’s a data point.

Sorry, my fault, two separate issues here, although they are related. One Medical has apparently been cut off from vaccine supplies in California and Washington, as they’ve been caught providing it to their members without bothering to check eligibility. Since their members are overwhelmingly white and young, I think you can see the problem. Given that there are plenty of 65+ non-white folks around here who could not get appointments until very recently (assuming they can figure out how to do it at all, yet another issue), it shows another way that vaccine distribution has ended up being quite skewed toward certain populations. They are not the first to be caught, another ‘concierge’ medical group in the Bay Area was doing the same thing back in January.


I’ll also mention the I have received several phishing emails that appear to be from my county (Alameda), but aren’t. I suspect that these emails may hijack ones sign up, substitute a different email, then pass the invitation code and link on to someone else when they arrive.

The system is super screwy and really has no filters other than self regulation. Down here in the OC, we had been told that Veterinarians had been reclassified to group 1A. It was the tail end of 1A, so my wife, who is still working at the hospital, signed up and got an appointment after playing the “constantly refresh for an appointment” game. I held off as I’m full time work from home now as a consultant, so my risk is less than most people’s. I figured that while I’d love to get a vaccine now, supermarket workers etc… have much higher risk than I do.
So my wife had her appointment and vaccine. Then we found out that the notification we had received from the Ca. Vet med assoc. was incorrect, and Vets had been reclassified into group 1B (which at the time had not yet started getting vaccinations). There were no stops to prevent my wife from unwittingly jumping the line. Heck, she was able to get a vaccine appt. even before my 85 year old Dad up in LA county was able to.
I think that as long as you’re not very blatantly gaming the system by dressing up like a granny or two kids in a trenchcoat on each other’s shoulders, there really aren’t a lot of checks verifying that people getting the vaccines are in the group that they say they are…

In my case it was a friend who got it from a friend (who got it from a friend…)

I don’t know how it started but I can see how one person with legitimate access to the code shares it with just one friend who doesn’t. And then it just gets passed along. As some point someone thinks to ask “What is this code for?” And their friend responds “I don’t know, maybe they are testing the system.” And so the story is born.

At each step no one is trying to be nefarious, they are just trying to help out a friend (or two). Whats the harm in that? And so the road to Hell is paved.

As I say in every one of these threads, SO WHAT.

The only thing that matters is speed. Pearl clutching over the exact right people getting the shot in the exact right order that is super duper fair only slows us down.

There will be spillage, mistakes, people who cheat, etc. It is not worth creating elaborate systems to catch these people. Park your righteous outrage. We’ll all get the shot and the only goal that matters is velocity.

Want more reasons why velocity matters? By being stupidly slow at this, we are giving the virus time to mutate. The new California Strain is vastly more contagious and believed to be resistant to current vaccines. Worried yet? You should be.



I know two people in England who’ve had their first shot. As best I can tell, this is the process:

  • Health authorities compile a list of people who qualify for the current tranche of the vaccine rollout, based on age, occupation, and any relevant medical conditions.

  • They contact each person on the list and offer them an appointment for the jab.

No codes. No queue-jumping (although there is the occasional anomaly/cock-up, like the healthy bloke in his thirties who got offered a jab because his GP had recorded his height as 6.2cm, giving him a BMI of 28,000).

Can someone explain to those of us not in CA what these “codes” are? How are they intended to be used? I don’t understand their purpose.

Is this like when tech companies used to want to roll out a new product slowly and by word of mouth, and let the first few users start giving codes to their friends, who give codes to theirs, and so on, e.g. when GMail first launched?

Did the codes get sent to people in specific neighborhoods? Why not just tell people to bring some proof of address? Why not just set up a temporary mobile clinic in the middle of that neigborhood? (This would be the most effective way to actually give vaccination access to people.) Did they get sent to people with low income based on state records or tax records? Then why not look people up by social security number? It doesn’t make any sense to have an anonymous “access code” that can be shared and used by anyone.

There’s a link to another (pay walled) article that explains a bit more. It seems like blame-shifting junk to try to pin any opprobrium on people “misusing” these codes.

First of all (according to the second article) the codes were supposed to engage with the existing priorities (aka 65+ and healthcare workers.) So it seems the system again broke down both in enforcement and communication. All of this hostility towards the people who “gamed” the system should really be directed at the people who created the system.

I’m still unclear on how the system was supposed to work, but apparently with this code a 31-year old was able to get a shot. I am far from convinced that the folks who made this system were not exploiting the flaws. Jerks make a system with holes, shove a few friends and family through it and then act surprised when the general population also exploit the loopholes and outrage ensues.

Are you going to share your estimates of delays and wastage at this point?

My understanding is that California is moving its entire supply of vaccine in a reasonably timely fashion. If that is true, then your whole “fuck fairness” thing just isn’t engaging with reality. It feels to me like you’re still stuck in the first week of this distribution.

We are supply constrained. We absolutely do have time for fairness.

I really feel that we are prioritizing in the wrong ways. We are trying to be ethical and moral, and give the vaccines to the highest risk people first; which is not how we optimize for lowest loss of life. Optimizing for lowest loss of life involves vaccinating those who are most likely to spread the disease most.

Frankly, nursing home patients and staff, and medical staff (including pharmacies) should be first, closely followed by essential employees.

And while it’s not fair, doing this in the more densely populated areas first would also likely save lives in the long run.

And as much as I hate to say this… all international traffic should stop, and any one returning should be mandated to do an at least 2 week stay in a quarantine facility until they can get two negative COVID results. (See Mikey Chen’s great video about his Korean Quarantine experience here: He also did a video of his NY return Quarantine; which was on the honor system at his home…)

I am relaying the position that epidemiologists have been very vocal about.


In my case GP texted a personalised link (which I suppose counts as a code), accessed link, entered DoB and postcode for identity check and booked time slot at one of two vaccine centres on offer, popped along to a chilly church hall and was jabbed, sat for 15 minutes to check I did not react and off home again.

I have since had the local hospital contact me to check if I needed an appointment.

Just waiting second appointment.

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