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Confusion over vaccine program leads Health Board to cancel ‘fraudulent’ registrations

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Confusion over vaccine program leads Health Board to cancel ‘fraudulent’ registrations

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FILE PHOTO: The DeKalb County Board of Health received 2,500 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and began vaccination of Board of Health frontline workers on Dec. 31, 2020 to be followed by long-term care facility residents and staff, and EMS personnel. Photo by Dean Hesse.
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Decatur, GA — Jeanne Montgomery wants to set the record straight.

When she signed up to get her vaccine through DeKalb County, she was doing so in good faith. However, the DeKalb County Board of Health determined she was cutting ahead in line, deemed her registration “fraudulent” and canceled it.

That decision left Montgomery fuming. She’s 74 and a cancer survivor. She qualifies for the current phase of the state’s vaccination program.

“I have been trying for weeks to get an appointment for a vaccine in DeKalb County,” she said. “I’m a therapist, so I started out as a healthcare worker trying to get signed up to get a vaccine that way.”

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She tried booking an appointment through the county’s website and couldn’t get it done that way.

“I finally just gave up,” she said. “I guess because the link was not live, I’ve never officially registered, although I swear I spent hours trying to register.”

Then she got a lucky break, or so she thought. A neighbor provided her a link where she could register and she was able to do so within 30 seconds. She was so sure she would be able to get the vaccine in DeKalb County, that she canceled an appointment she had in Fulton County.

What she did not know is the link her neighbor provided in an attempt to be helpful inadvertently put Montgomery and others like her in the county Health Board’s crosshairs.

The link she was provided was given only to those people who registered through the county website by completing its vaccine registration form.

In an email to people who signed up this way, the county Health Board said, “Unfortunately, the link to book a date and time for the vaccine was shared on social media and, as a result, individuals who had not completed the online registration were able to select appointments. We have now CANCELLED all of these appointments. Please note that this booking link was ONLY meant for the individuals that registered online (provided demographic information, consent, etc) when we opened up the form to eligible individuals in Tier 1A+ on Friday, January 8, 2020.”

Then, the kicker.

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“We have canceled all fraudulent appointments and have been able to open up new time slots for those who filled out the online registration form ONLY,” the email said.

The allegation that she had done something improper angered Montgomery.

“It’s really their fault that this happened,” Montgomery said. “We’re not a bunch of criminals trying to sneak in line. It would be dumb to do that. It wouldn’t be right to do that. It’s insulting to call this fraudulent when they need to look at their system and look at how screwed up it is.”

Montgomery wasn’t the only person affected by this issue. Another reader forwarded a similar message to Decaturish.

Initially, Eric Nickens , a spokesperson with the Board of Health, said that the people who signed up using this link had “jumped the line digitally.”

“Jumping the line digitally is not fair to those who waited to get through to our registration form before we paused it,” Nickens said.

When Decaturish talked to Nickens again and relayed Montgomery’s story, his stance softened a bit.

He said people need to be wary of signing up for vaccines from the county via links they find online.

“If you see something on social media or a friend has forwarded it to you, think twice about it, especially in these times,” Nickens said. “You need to go to the original source which is the board of health’s home page. It would’ve indicated the registration paused.”

The county Board of Health website address is: https://www.dekalbhealth.net/

But is it fair to call registering this way fraudulent when it was a misunderstanding?

“Ultimately people did not follow the proper procedure,” he said. “Those who did register, they received their registration confirmation.  Anyone who forwarded that link from their personal registration that was verified that was … not exactly the way it should’ve been done.”

Montgomery said the county owes people like her an apology.

“I’m just appalled,” she said. “They need to apologize and say we’re really sorry this happened, instead of blaming the people who did it who were desperate and thought like me, I thought, ‘This is great, they’ve really gotten it together.'”

There may be more bumps in the road toward giving everyone the COVID-19 vaccine.

Decaturish asked Nickens whether the county had enough doses of the vaccine to give everyone a second dose that received the first.

“Right now we’re focused on first doses,” he said. “We’re waiting on more vaccines from the state. We’re taking it week by week.”

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