ROCKVILLE, Md. — As many as 50% of all the vaccination appointments being made at the Montgomery County Health Department are coming from people who are abusing the system, according to a department spokesperson.
They are using what’s called “shared links”. Health authorities across Maryland are begging people to stop.
Frequently, the abuse which amounts to attempts at cutting ahead in line for the precious vaccine is unintentional, authorities said.
The shared link problem starts when someone who qualifies for vaccination, and who pre-registered with their county, gets an official email from their local health department offering them an electronic link to get a vaccine appointment. However, after making that appointment, those qualified recipients will often email the link to family members and friends who don’t qualify, according to health officials.
Many of those unqualified people use the links to make appointments anyway.
"It gums up the process. We've been imploring people for the last several weeks not to share an appointment link. If they get a link from us, that link is for them, and then only them. To me, it's like taking the vaccine away from your 92-year-old mother or grandmother ... or something like that," said Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Mary Anderson.
Anderson said health workers scramble to dump unauthorized appointments from the system to clear the way for those who should be getting shots first.
Montgomery County is currently in the midst of attempting to vaccinate all residents in Group 1B, tier 1, which is all residents over age 75.
As of Wednesday, about 27,000 residents in the group have been vaccinated which represents about 37% of that category, according to Montgomery County.
Anderson says the root of this problem is that there is simply not enough vaccine to meet demand.
Maryland Congressman Anthony Brown says Maryland’s failure to create a one-stop online registration system for all residents is adding to the chaos.
"It’s not a sustainable model to ask every Marylander to fill out multiple forms, on multiple websites with no assurance that they will actually secure an appointment," Brown said in a statement issued Wednesday.
Brown is demanding that Maryland should spend some of the federal funds now being sent to help on updating its computer system.
According to local health authorities, a computer system called PrepMod is also to blame. It’s a state-run vaccine registration system originally designed to get kids vaccinated for schools and was not designed to block link sharing, Anderson said.
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich released a statement on Friday evening regarding the issues surrounding vaccination appointments and clinics:
"Montgomery County-run vaccination sites are by appointment only and are currently focused on vaccinating residents who are in Priority Groups 1A and 1B, Tier 1 (residents 75 and older). As a result, County staff and volunteers turned away residents who did not meet that criteria..
It is extremely important that residents do not share the vaccination appointment links they receive with family, friends or neighbors. These links are intended ONLY for the recipient and not to share with others. It is also important to note that the County’s vaccination clinics are BY APPOINTMENT ONLY. This process allows us to better ensure that doses are distributed equitably.
We apologize for the inconvenience this situation may have caused. Going forward, we will improve signage at sites, so that residents have a better understanding of their eligible for vaccination. In addition, we are investigating ways to improve the check-in process to reduce wait times.
We understand that the vaccination process may be confusing and frustrating, and we continue to ask for your patience during this time. We will continue to do our best to reduce the challenges that the limited supply of the vaccine is causing."