L.A. County Vaccine I.D. Rules Are So Flexible, Few Get Turned Away
Each day, the Los Angeles County Public Health Department is administering anti-Covid vaccines to between 12,000 and 20,000 people.
The shots are reserved for those in the most at-risk categories: workers in specific industries, people over 65, and those with disabilities or certain medical conditions.
Checking people's eligibility is a difficult task. Make the I.D rules too restrictive, and the most vulnerable may be excluded. Too loose, and others may slip in on a technicality.
In L.A., it seems the preference is to get as many people vaccinated as possible. The county says the total number who are being turned down for lack of documentation is a mere handful -- only about 30 a day.
"We're trying to be as flexible as we can. The goal here is not to turn people away," said Fabian Herrera of the L.A. County Fire Department, who was staffing the county-run clinic at the Forum in Inglewood.
DIFFERENT FORMS OF I.D.
The vaccine scene at the Forum on a recent Saturday was fairly cheerful. As cars backed up a bit on Kareem Court, a security guard waved them in with directions in English and Spanish. Drivers were guided into seven orange-coned lanes of traffic to their first checkpoint.
Here, they check to make sure people arriving have put their information into the county's vaccine data system. And they also get their temperature taken.
At the second station, a nurse checks a woman's ID to make sure her name matches what she put in the appointment website, and then asks for evidence of her employment.
Here's one dilemma facing public health authorities. In Southern California, many people don't have traditional IDs such as a driver's license. They may be food or farm workers who are in the country without authorization. Or they could be older residents who don't drive. Or they could be experiencing homelessness, and have lost their ID.
So, officials will accept many different types of identification, such as a utility bill that has their name on it that shows they live or work in L.A. County. Some immigrants use a Mexican government ID called a matrícula.
The rules to prove your work eligibility are similarly flexible, although not a free-for-all. You could bring an employee ID badge, or a pay stub. But if you work casually -- or are paid in cash -- you could also bring something like a work schedule that has your name on it.
You could even write your own letter attesting that you work in any of the eligible categories or have an eligible disability.
Los Angeles County actually provides templates in English and Spanish on its Covid-19 vaccine website to help workers write their own letter.
FLEXIBLE WITH ALL
The final place to show ID is the drive-through vaccination tent.
That's where a nurse checked the drivers licenses of James Deleray and a friend, who drove to the Forum together.
Deleray said he and his friend worked at restaurants in Long Beach but didn't get vaccinated in that city, which rolled out shots for food workers weeks before Los Angeles County did.
Deleray said that's because, "We go to USC now and then we're probably going to need it next semester anyway to even go on campus. So that's that's the main reason we're getting it."
To show they were eligible, "We just showed them our tax forms, like where we worked and the name of our owners. That's all they asked for," he said.
It turns out that the very same rules that are loose enough for undocumented farmworkers and food handlers to get the vaccine are also flexible enough to let a couple of USC students who used to work in restaurants get it too.
"We have to be fair," Herrera said. "If we're going to be flexible with some people, We have to be flexible with all."
The vaccine centers do turn a few people away, said Kenichi Haskett, a county fire division chief who is a spokesman for the county Public Health Department's vaccine centers.
He witnessed one incident where a woman "did not bring any type of documents showing she worked at a restaurant. I waited with her, to have her employer send a screen grab or picture via her cell phone confirming she was employed by their restaurant," Haskett said. "But after 30 minutes she left because her employer never called her back. She said she was going to go home get a paystub."
Haskett estimates that only 30 people a day are turned away from county vaccine clinics, based on calls he made to the five large county clinics and two walk-up clinics.