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Though nearby pharmacies are offering the vaccine, Largo is limiting herself to finding a shot through one clinic that she knows treats people without insurance and has Spanish-speaking staff. So far, they haven’t had an appointment for her.
In nearly every state, providers are required to believe what you say about underlying conditions. Sara Waldecker was worried about how she could prove that she was a high-risk patient eligible for a COVID-19 shot. Michigan had just opened up vaccinations to anyone ages 16 and up with disabilities or medical conditions that qualified. Waldecker, 37, said that a childhood illness left her with lung scarring and asthma, but she wasn’t sure how to get hold of those medical records because “the primary doctor I saw, up to five years ago, has died.” After that, Waldecker switched hospital systems, and her old records didn’t transfer with her. Then Waldecker’s husband lost his job during the pandemic, leaving them without health insurance. She said she couldn’t afford to see a doctor and have tests run to get diagnosed again. She’d spent the entirety of the pandemic isolated, buffeted by conflicted emotions. “If I catch it, there’s an overwhelming chance I’m not going to make it, but I also feel guilt from keeping my kid from her favorite places,” she said. “She’s healthy, the rest of my family is healthy — I’m the weak link. I’m the one keeping them in isolation.” In fact, Waldecker didn’t need to prove anything. In Michigan, “individuals attest to any medical conditions upon registration,” according to Lynn Sutfin, public information officer for the state’s Softball Part Time Warm Up Partner Full Time Dad Shirt
Department of Health and Human Services. “They do not need to provide proof.” That information is not evident on the state health department’s website, nor is it clear on the website of the health department for Macomb County, where Waldecker lives.
ProPublica surveyed all 50 states and found that, among those currently providing vaccines to individuals with underlying health conditions, almost all only require a patient to self-attest that they meet the criteria, and do not require any documentation or proof. Florida is one exception. It limits eligibility to “persons determined to be extremely vulnerable by a physician” and provides a form for doctors to fill out.
In Delaware, health providers and hospital systems are the only places where patients with health conditions can get a vaccine. “Delaware health providers, including hospitals, have been advised to use their clinical judgement to vaccinate individuals 16-64 with underlying health conditions, as they will have access to the patient’s medical information,” state public health department spokesperson Robin Bryson wrote in an email. Even in states that only require an attestation of someone’s underlying condition, that information was hard to find on state websites. Many did not mention it at all, and ProPublica was only able to learn about it by contacting press offices.