Post #990: Vaccine registration should not be this confusing

Posted on February 2, 2021

I just want to clarify a few things about registering to get the COVID vaccine, here in Fairfax County.  I did manage to register today.  I think.

And they sent me a text to confirm.  It said:

This is an automated message.  Please do not respond.  Reply with YES to confirm receipt.

That delightfully ambiguous message was of-a-piece with the rest of it.

Anyway, Fairfax County is now on phase 1b of vaccination.  That’s critical workers (police, teachers, grocery, mail, and so on), those age 65+, and those with health conditions putting them at risk of severe COVID.  You can find the full, detailed list at that “What is Happening” link on this web page.  It’ll probably be some months before they get through persons qualifying under 1b.

Why the confusion?  As it turns out:

  1. I thought I had registered in early January, but I hadn’t.
  2. I thought the Commonwealth would send me a reminder when I was eligible to get the vaccine, but it didn’t.
  3. My wife and I both read the materials about which phase of vaccination we qualified for.  We should have agreed, but we didn’t.

The materials from both the State and the County have (what I found to be) confusing elements.  Let me just cut to the chase.

These instructions are for persons 65+ or younger persons with a qualifying medical condition.  You must register with Fairfax County, not with the Commonwealth of Virginia.   Starting from this page.  Then you go to this page.   You check to see if you qualify for the current phase (1b).  Then you fill out the form.  Starting from a page that looks like this:

Fill that out and you’re done.

A few bits of ambiguity to avoid, if you qualify for 1a or 1b.

What is a “high risk medical condition”?   If you think you qualify based on a “high risk medical condition”, click the “high risk medical condition” link on that Fairfax County page.  And find out that the term “high risk medical condition” does not appear on the CDC web page they point you to.  You just have to know that any of the conditions listed on that CDC webpage qualifies you for phase 1b.  (You can verify that from this document on the Commonwealth of Virginia website (.pdf.)

Do not go to the Commonwealth of Virginia website.  There is, in fact, a registration form on from the Virginia Department of Health.  And it even mentions signing up for your vaccine.  But that does not sign you up for your vaccination.

Don’t do it.  This form was featured in a post on NextDoor circa 1/10/2021.  I read the part about sign up for your vaccine, and I foolishly gave them all my information and thought that I was signing up for my vaccine.  Nope.

In theory, that Commonwealth of Virginia website signs you up to be reminded of when you can actually sign up for your vaccine.  With your county health department.

In practice, that didn’t work.  I got no notification even though I am, in fact, eligible to sign up with the County.  Plausibly, that didn’t work because the Governor changed the rules circa 1/18/2021, and added my category to the 1b vaccine group at that point.  And that software was not updated?

I don’t know.  Just be aware that if you signed up with the Commonwealth, maybe based on something you saw posted on NextDoor, you didn’t sign up to get in line for vaccination.  And you may or may not have even signed up to get a reminder about when you can sign up for vaccination.

Bottom line:  You have to register with Fairfax County, not with the Commonwealth.

There are a host of other changes I would make to this process, if I were running the show.  And there’s still a lot of ambiguity.  For example, in some parts of Virginia, they’re starting to offer these via clinics in CVS.  But not around here.  And if you’re elderly, there’s some verbiage about getting the vaccine through your health care provider, not via the County.  Just a lot of ambiguity.

How would I run this, if it were up to me?  Distribute the vaccine through drug stores, distribute the authorization to get vaccinated via US mail, email, and smart phone.  I understand the desire to allocate the vaccine in this top-down hierarchical fashion.  But that in no way requires you to have the local government directly vaccinate people.  That’s just begging to have a bottleneck.  In the modern era, it seems like it should be easy enough to combine decentralized distribution with centralized control.    But that’s not what we’re getting.  Yet.