Vaccine seekers have been navigating conflicting information from the state’s MyTurn COVID-19 vaccine registration website, in some cases allowing appointments to be mistakenly booked by people outside the county.
(TNS) — A "glitch" in California's COVID-19 vaccine registration website incorrectly allowed anyone in the state to register for shots in Kings County, a top public health official there said.
One man who registered, Harinder Singh, 66, of Fresno, was turned away from a Hanford clinic by staff because he's not a Kings County resident.
In registering for a coronavirus vaccine, Singh's city of residence, Fresno, and zip code were first entered into the state's MyTurn portal, which then told him an appointment in Hanford was available, said his son Jasjit Singh, who made the appointment for his father.
Harinder Singh said he didn't receive an email or phone call notifying him that his appointment had been canceled, and no one at the Hanford clinic Thursday morning gave him information about how to schedule a new one. He said he asked if he could wait there for more information and was told to leave the property.
Heather Silva, assistant director of the Kings County Department of Public Health, said Thursday evening that Kings County has stopped booking appointments through MyTurn until the issue is resolved, and is now "only booking those from our waitlist as vaccine supply allows."
"MyTurn staff have indicated they are working on correcting the glitch in the system that allows anyone across the state to register for our Hanford clinic site," Silva said. There's no timeline yet for when those issues might be fixed.
The California Department of Public Health told The Bee on Thursday only that they were "researching" the MyTurn matter. California launched the MyTurn system in late January.
Silva didn't tell The Bee how many appointments in Kings County were canceled because of this issue, or if Kings County residents are still able to register for a COVID-19 vaccine online another way through the county.
Later Thursday, a news release said COVID-19 vaccine appointments in Kings County are "on hold" and halted for the near future.
As of Friday afternoon, however, Kings County was still directing people on its website to myturn.ca.gov for appointments.
Silva said the issue in Kings County began Wednesday afternoon, while piloting two small clinics using MyTurn "with the aim of testing out the new state-mandated system before we fully transition." Staff "immediately started experiencing issues and concerns with who was able to register for an appointment at our Hanford clinic site," including out-of-county residents and others deemed ineligible.
"We have always only vaccinated those who live or work in Kings," said Silva, who called that "standard" for health departments across California.
In nearby Fresno County, however, Fresno County Department of Public Health staff said, "Our understanding is that all MyTurn spots are open for anyone not county based, we aren't checking for a local address for our Fresno County clinics."
Fresno County's vaccine team described the system this way: "MyTurn directs people to the closest clinic site — depending on that clinic's requirement they may only be vaccinating people who live or work in that county — we do not have much control over the system — they may need to speak to MyTurn directly."
Fresno County also directs people to the MyTurn portal for COVID-19 vaccine registration.
Silva said the number of COVID-19 vaccine doses in Kings County has been "extremely limited" — less than some similar-sized California counties. She said her county is still vaccinating health care workers and working through a waitlist of Kings County residents who are 65 and older. Demand for vaccines among residents continue to "far outweigh the supply." Kings County also didn't receive its vaccine shipment this week because of inclement weather across the country, which is compounding the issue, Silva said.
Nichole Fisher, Kings County Department of Public Health nursing home division manager, also expressed frustration, adding that these delays come "at a crucial time in curtailing the pandemic."
The 66-year-old Harinder Singh is among millions of residents over the age of 65 in California who are now eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
He arrived on time for his Thursday morning appointment at Kings County's Hanford clinic at 330 Campus Drive. It was a 45-minute drive from his home in southeast Fresno. He showed staff at the clinic his reservation code upon arrival, but was told his appointment had been canceled and to leave.
"It was not a good experience," Singh said. "It was bad."
His son, Jasjit Singh, called the state to ask what happened and was directed to Fresno County's 211 hotline. Someone there told him they would look into the matter.
Jasjit said there's also a language barrier for his dad, and that experiences like this for immigrants can be especially hard. His dad left the clinic feeling "dejected," he said, like "Oh, you just don't get it."
"It takes a toll on the psyche," Jasjit said.
Jasjit is on the board of the Fresno-based Jakara Movement, which has helped get Sikh and Punjabi communities COVID-19 information. Jasjit lives in Sacramento and is also director of programs for California ChangeLawyers.
His father retired last year from his job as a truck driver because of COVID-19 concerns. Harinder also has asthma. Harinder said he's eager to get a COVID-19 vaccine, also so he can return to work part-time for extra income.
After being denied a vaccine in Hanford, Harinder was later able to get an appointment via the MyTurn site for his first of two COVID-19 shots at the Fresno Fairgrounds, scheduled for Tuesday, his son said.
Of the cancelled appointments, Silva said MyTurn "informed us that once we cancel their appointment in the system, the system will notify the patient of their cancellation." But that didn't happen.
"After speaking with out-of-county residents that still showed up for their appointment, we realized that no one had received a cancellation email from MyTurn," only emails from the Kings County health department, Silva said.
"Our staff immediately started reaching out to all patients via telephone to inform them of their cancellation."
Silva said people with canceled appointments were given a number to the MyTurn call center so they could reschedule an appointment in their county, and were advised to also reach out to their county health department to see if there are any other clinics administering vaccines not yet listed on the state's MyTurn portal.
Harinder said he wasn't given any of this information from MyTurn or Kings County, including no cancellation emails or calls.
His son Jasjit also wondered if the COVID-19 vaccine originally slated for his father had been wasted. Silva said all doses are used.
"If there are doses remaining from an open vial at the end of the day," she said, "we call patients from the waitlist to ensure we use the entire vial before the end of the day."
Jasjit hopes the story about what happened to his dad helps county health departments and the state improve how COVID-19 vaccines are administered in California. Jasjit said he'd rather see the Federal Emergency Management Agency in charge of administering coronavirus vaccines.
Silva said she recognizes cancelled appointments are "frustrating" for people.
"And it is extremely difficult to have to turn people away," she said, "especially those who are most vulnerable."
©2021 The Fresno Bee, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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