PROVIDENCE — Residents 75 and older are supposed to be the only Rhode Islanders who are eligible for a vaccine. But if you’re younger than that, you still can make an appointment on the state’s new vaccine website.
When people log onto VaccinateRI.org, the new online portal, to schedule appointments at the two mass vaccination sites managed by the state, they have to self-attest that they are 75 or older and live, work, or go to school in Rhode Island.
But past that point, no part of the registration form stops people who are not yet eligible in Rhode Island from booking a vaccine appointment, even if they enter ineligible birth dates.
In fact, some younger residents posted about the loophole on social media and encouraged others to sign up. “All I can say is we put in our birthdays and they signed us up and neither of us is 75,” wrote one. “We expected just to be put on a list ... but then they let us pick an appointment.”
“I am going to delete this post in a few minutes.”
Wrote another: “...under 65 and I just signed up for a covid vaccination at the Dunk for tomorrow. You might want to give it a shot. No pun intended.”
But state health officials say those residents’ euphoria will be short-lived: The state will cancel those appointments in the system and those residents will be automatically notified.
Despite this, the Rhode Island portal did not crash like the Massachusetts sign-up website. And although some seniors were having trouble taking a photo of the front and back of their insurance cards and uploading those to the site, state health officials reported that more than 10,000 Rhode Islanders had made appointments either via the website or a special hotline (844-930-1779) by early Thursday afternoon.
The state announced on Wednesday that those over 75 could start registering for appointments on Thursday and those over 65 could start scheduling appointments on Monday. But Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the state’s health department, said she recognizes the messaging could have been confusing.
“With this being the first 24 hours of opening, we want to give people the benefit of the doubt that from now until Monday, it’s 75 and over,” said Alexander-Scott at the weekly press conference on Thursday. “But we will if we need to, and have the capacity to, delete appointments if they are made by individuals who clearly do not qualify.”
She said she wants the vaccination campaign to focus solely on appointments for those 75 and older for the next 24 to 48 hours.
She said this system, based on the “honesty and cooperation” of residents, is similar to how other states are handling their vaccine portals.
“We know this was a lot of information to get started, and we are giving people the benefit of the doubt,” she said.
But some critics say this communication issue is just one many failures during the state’s vaccination campaign.
State Representative Raymond Hull, a Providence Democrat and chairman of the House COVID-19 Task Force, said he’s upset with the “failures” of the state’s rollout.
“The communication aspect has been absolutely horrible,” Hull told the Globe Thursday. “This is not a ‘gotcha’ moment. This is people’s lives. Do it right or at least say, ‘we did it wrong so we’re going to do something different.’ ”