From the very beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, there have been people who sought to take advantage of the situation. Only two months after the virus hit the United States, the FDA had already sent warnings to dozens of companies selling fake COVID-19 remedies and cures. Unfortunately, the situation is like fighting the mythical hydra: when one fraudulent company is shut down, another two pop up.
The problem isn’t simply that these companies are exploiting people’s fears by selling colloidal silver and herbal tonics as “cures.” They’re causing real harm. When people use a mystery liquid bought online instead of going to the doctor or receiving a COVID-19 test, they’re putting their health in jeopardy – and the health of others. Many of these snake-oil salesmen claim their tinctures will protect a person from the virus. That could lead people to think they’re immune and don’t need to wear a mask or continue social distancing. But the only way to gain immunity is through a vaccine.
Of course, as soon as the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine became available, scammers found ways to exploit that, too. That’s why it’s essential to stay current with the vaccine news and know what to expect.
Know the facts
First, try to be patient. There are two vaccines that have received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA): the aforementioned Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna vaccine. However, rollout has been somewhat slow. By the target date of January 1, less than 5 million Americans had received their first dose – not quite a quarter of the 20 million person goal. Experts recommend that at least 10% of the vaccine stock currently withheld for second doses or to replace unusable doses should be used now instead. This could boost vaccination to a level of 6 million doses per week and reduce new COVID-19 cases more quickly.
However, it’s unclear what the federal government will decide. Operation Warp Speed has suggested offering half-doses of the Moderna vaccine in order to double the number of people vaccinated. The FDA is opposed to that option as it has not been tested for efficacy.
Regardless of when and how the vaccine is released, states have been following roughly the same plan for rollout:
- Health care personnel and long-term care residents are currently being vaccinated.
- Next up: frontline essential workers and anyone 75 years or older.
- After that, people 65 to 74 years old, people 16-64 with underlying medical conditions that could cause COVID-19 complications, and other essential workers who are not considered “frontline” will be next.
- All other groups will follow these.
Your state’s plan may differ somewhat. To learn about vaccine availability and how you’ll be notified of your eligibility, check your state’s health department website.
If you’re not a member of the early vaccination groups, you will need to wait for your shot. Anyone who suggests otherwise is likely trying to scam you. But even if you are a member of these early groups, there are scams that could affect you, too.
Signs of a scam
A website claims to sell doses of an unspecified COVID-19 vaccine.
This one may seem obvious, but just in case it isn’t clear: you cannot buy the vaccine. The vaccine that you will receive has been purchased by the U.S. government, using U.S. taxpayer money. While your provider may charge a fee for administering the vaccine, you will not pay out-of-pocket for the vaccine itself.
Do not attempt to buy a mystery vial from the Internet, regardless of whether the seller accepts cash, credit card, or cryptocurrency. You will not receive an actual vaccine.
Someone claims you can pay to “move up” in the vaccine queue.
People have already received recorded calls offering an early dose of the vaccine for $79.99. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has already established that no one will ever be asked to pay to “enhance [their] ranking for vaccine eligibility” or to be placed on a waiting list.
It goes without saying, but patients will also not be allowed to bribe their doctor or hospital system to get the vaccine before they are eligible.
You see an advertisement for a vaccine on Facebook.
According to the FBI, vaccine advertisements – whether through social media, email, phone calls, door-to-door solicitation, or from any other sources – are a sign of fraudulent activity. As stated previously, the vaccines have been purchased by the U.S. government. Doses are not for individual sale.
You receive an email from the CDC or WHO.
The email is likely a phishing scam and the sender is impersonating these organizations. Scammers may also impersonate local authorities or medical professionals through email, text message, or phone call. Avoid clicking links or attachments in emails or texts. Check the sender’s email address or phone number (often a dead giveaway that it’s a fraudulent message). Don’t offer any personal or medical information to anyone other than your trusted medical professionals; scammers can use that information to commit identity theft.
If in doubt, ask your trusted doctor or pharmacist for help navigating the COVID-19 vaccination process. Don’t pay out-of-pocket for the vaccine, don’t trust advertisements for COVID vaccines or “cures,” and don’t give any health information over the phone. Keep social distancing, continue wearing a mask in public, and avoid sharing enclosed spaces with people who aren’t in your household. Consider using ScriptDrop prescription delivery instead of going to the pharmacy.
And don’t despair. We have two authorized vaccines with more on the way. By summer or early fall, the United States should be well on the way to herd immunity.