‘I just felt dumb’: Vaccine hopefuls duped by web link

COVID-19 Vaccine

Editor’s Note: On March 30, 2021, Allegan County health officials revised their explanation of what caused the problem. While they initially said a “fraudulent” link was to blame, they later explained that that the source of the problem was an overshared scheduling link that they rendered null.

What follows is the original March 29, 2021, report:

WAYLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — Hundreds of people hoping to be vaccinated in Allegan County were turned away this weekend after a vaccine appointment link led them to believe it was their turn to receive the shot.

The Allegan County Health Department held three vaccine clinics over the weekend at Wayland Union High School. They say 2,500 people were vaccinated, but hundreds were turned away despite receiving emails appearing to have come from the county, stating it was their turn to be vaccinated as well.

One Ottawa County family, who preferred not to be named, claim their refusals could be extremely problematic for the health of their son.

“Our son suffers from tracheobroncomalacia. Any type of illness, like a cold or whatever, is going to result in or could result in a hospital visit — whether it’s in the ER or an actual hospital stay,” the Ottawa County woman said. “It’s just been really hard and when that opened up on March 8, there was this glimmer of hope and at least getting my husband and I vaccinated so we could help further protect him.”

They received the link, that the county now claims is fraudulent, from a coworker. The link looks legit, but it wasn’t.

“I mean it was devastating because one like, so hopeful in finally getting the vaccine, but then also I just felt dumb,” the woman said. “We know this stuff is out there and we’re usually pretty guarded with that, so I just felt dumb that I let my guard down and let this happen.”

The link asked for hundreds of peoples’ names, numbers, date of birth and insurance information.

“I mean we got there at 10 and they had already knew it was an issue. I don’t know if they found out that morning or if they had found out earlier, but they were basically (saying) to get in line to see if your name was on their list and if it wasn’t on their list, that means the link that you used was a fraudulent link and they turned you away,” the woman said. “Be super careful where you’re signing up and what information you’re sharing because we were fooled.”

The health department says the link in question didn’t come from them. They’re not sure where it came from.

“This link was not something that we had created nor did our vendor create, and so we worked with our vendor to correct that issue,” Lindsay Maunz, Allegan County Health Department public information officer, said. “At the clinic on Saturday, we had known that this fraudulent link was shared and people were booking appointments, and we tried our best to cancel those. So at the clinic, we checked our roster to verify if they had an appointment and we communicated with the individuals that were turned away that the link they used was invalid and provided them with instructions for signing up on our registry.”

Luckily, no social security numbers were claimed by the link. The health department says oversharing is to blame.

“We’re glad to see that people want to get the vaccine and are using their resources and advocating for themselves to get the vaccine, however, with the process we have at the Allegan County Health Department to make your vaccine appointment at one of our vaccine clinics, the link will be shared directly to you from the Allegan County Health Department,” Maunz said. “So, if the link was shared to you some other way, your appointment may be canceled.”

Maunz said the health department would have still vaccinated everyone who showed up over the weekend, but they simply didn’t have enough doses.

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