Flooded with line cutters from Hollywood and media, Pasadena cancels COVID vaccine clinic

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Flooded with line cutters from Hollywood and media, Pasadena cancels COVID vaccine clinic

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Pasadena officials on Tuesday canceled a COVID-19 vaccination clinic for senior citizens, grocery store employees and other essential workers after hundreds of people who were not eligible for the shots signed up for appointments.

People who did not yet qualify for the vaccine under state guidelines claimed about 900 of the 1,500 slots at a clinic that was designed for people older than 65 and essential workers who live or work in Pasadena, said city spokeswoman Lisa Derderian.

Many of the appointments were booked by people who worked in the news media and in Hollywood, Derderian said, including at production companies, streaming TV services, news outlets and on the sets of soap operas.

“Hundreds signed up within the first hour,” Derderian said. “It was like rapid fire.”

The Pasadena Public Health Department last week sent an email to healthcare workers, senior citizens, child-care workers, teachers and food workers who had previously expressed interest in getting the vaccine, telling them they could book appointments at a clinic at Pasadena City College.

The email told workers they would be required to present proof that they worked in an eligible industry and lived or worked in Pasadena. The email also included a registration link to California’s vaccination appointment system, CalVax, and provided slots for five days, including Thursday.

On Monday, a Los Angeles Times reporter who had received a link to sign up for an appointment called the city, Derderian said. Officials opened the registration system and saw that hundreds of people with jobs in Hollywood and the news media had claimed available slots, she said.

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The registration link for Thursday’s vaccination clinic had spread like wildfire. A red-lettered warning had failed to keep the links private.

The CalVax website does not allow health departments or vaccine clinics to limit registrations to people who live or work in certain ZIP Codes. That means people who are not eligible for vaccines, or not eligible at a particular site, can still fill out the registration forms and secure an appointment.

The Pasadena health department tries to improve its screening process by contacting every person who lists an address outside the city on the registration form, Derderian said. Many are restaurant workers and grocery store employees who are eligible for shots and commute to the city for work, she said. Officials remind them to bring a pay stub, a letter from their employer or another form of documentation that shows they work within the city boundaries.

Calling 900 people within a few days to verify their eligibility or ask them not to come was just too much, Derderian said. The city decided to reschedule the clinic. No new date has been confirmed.

“We would have hundreds of people showing up who would not have qualified, and they would have been turned away,” Derderian said. “I’m sure the situation would have escalated in many cases.”

She added: “We do check for ID. We will turn you away if you don’t meet the current tier, if you don’t live in town or work in town. Our health officer will not risk her credentials or the health department’s licensing or the city’s reputation. We are very strict in adhering to the guidelines.”

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Canceling the clinic was particularly difficult news for senior citizens who had struggled to get appointments, and who have been largely shut off from the world for a year, Derderian said. Some cried when they learned their appointments had been moved, she said.

Local officials have complained that the state’s technology for making and managing vaccine appointments is flawed, and does not allow them to easily reserve vaccine appointments for people in communities where infection rates are high and vaccination rates are low.

The problems in Pasadena mirrored a situation in Los Angeles County in which registration codes meant to reserve vaccination appointments for residents of communities hit hard by COVID-19 wound up in the hands of more privileged Angelenos, including private-school teachers and Hollywood workers, as The Times previously reported.

Officials said the region was slated to receive its largest single-week share of COVID-19 vaccines to date — a welcome, if possibly short-lived, boost that will allow tens of thousands of additional Angelenos to receive their first shot.

Swelling this week’s expected total haul of about 312,000 doses is a substantial shipment of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which federal drug regulators recently authorized for emergency use. Officials are hopeful that the single-dose vaccine will help accelerate inoculation rates across the country.

L.A. County expects to receive 53,700 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week.

Officials in the city of Los Angeles said they anticipated administering 88,000 shots this week, and most of those — nearly 68,000 — will be first doses. This week’s boon could be a blip, however, a least in the near term, as rollout of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been slowed by production issues.

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