Late last month, my day was interrupted with a text:
"Hi!! Theres a vaccination site doing a test run that anyone can go to! They have a million appointements!" (sic)
My friend’s message included an access code and link to the MyTurnCA website. Sensing it was too good to be true, but curious nonetheless, I dropped everything. I submitted my race (white), age (46), zip code (Northeast LA), profession (not essential), health conditions (nothing eligible), and fully expected to be bounced right off the website. Miraculously, however, a slot appeared. It must be an experimental program, I reasoned— otherwise, why would my nonessential ass get through California’s official flagship distribution network? I thought I had won the lottery—undeserved, unsolicited, but utterly welcome after a year of living in fear.
The next morning, I woke up to a headline: “Vaccine Access Codes for Hard-hit Black, Latino Communities Improperly Used in Other L.A. Areas.”
Clearly, as the kids say, it me.
After some agonizing, I canceled my appointment. If I was hoping for relief, I was disappointed. Because all I was doing was putting one dose back into a bank that I knew was failing communities of color.
Meanwhile in the press, there was one message on the subject, and it was this: THE PEOPLE WHO RECEIVED THESE ILL-GOTTEN CODES ARE MONSTERS. Articles used shame or clickbait rather than digging into what went wrong on a structural level. Then our elected officials piled on, from county supervisors to the governor, calling those who used the code “disgusting” without copping to the fact that they tried to check an inclusivity box by throwing easily-shareable codes into the ether and walking away. (Indeed, the codes in question were still valid through the weekend.)
It’s a smokescreen. As long we’re pointing fingers at each other, we don’t notice that the officials in charge of serving Black and Brown constituents spent all of five minutes designing a program that holds lives in the balance. And as long as we’re shaming the code-users, we’re not demanding accountability from our officials. Let’s ask those in charge: How are you ensuring that doses get to the people who need it? What’s the ground game? And most importantly, how do our most impacted communities want and need to be served?
Today, my friend sent me another link. This one was a call for volunteers for GetOutTheShot.org, a collective helping underserved people get access to the vaccine. I signed up and in the time it would take to read some clickbait or write a deliciously shaming social media post about line-jumping, I hooked up two older Eastsiders with appointments.
Hopefully the state’s new initiative will improve a system that’s failing our most at-risk: but in the meantime, the least we can do is help them hack it.
Heather Ross is an Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker who lives in Glassell Park