Website glitch allows ineligible NJ residents to make COVID vaccine appointments

HACKENSACK, New Jersey (WABC) -- Confusion at New Jersey's largest health care network left many patients believing they could sign up to get the COVID vaccine, but was it a glitch or a scam?

"I figured it's being offered to us, I better jump on line -- I have no idea when my turns gonna be," MyChart patient Staci Blank said.

How can you blame Staci Blank? According to the state of New Jersey, she's not close to getting the vaccine.

But this weekend she was sent a form linking her to her MyChart account at Hackensack Meridian Health Hospital, allowing her to schedule a vaccination and skip the line.

"It asked me my date of birth, my email -- it confirmed that I had an appointment," Blank said.

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New Jersey is in Phase 1a and 1b, where first responders, health care workers and other frontline personnel, like firefighters, are the only ones getting vaccinated

So far, 17,000 people have gotten their first shots.

Hackensack's representative said the MyChart link to jump in line was intended for first responders, but allowed anyone in the general public to sign up for vaccination appointments.

"It took me right in because I already have MyChart," Blank said.

She was also able to create accounts and make appointment for family members.

When the system returned confirmations for the same date and time by the end of January, she got suspicious.

"That's when I went -- wait a minute, it's too good to be true, and that's when I called you," Blank said.

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Nina Pineda has the story with 7 On Your SIde.

Seven On Your Side asked Hackensack Meridian Health to investigate.

This is how the hospital responded:

"We did not text or email the registration link to patients. We are calling everyone who signed up for a vaccine to obtain their badge number and information on where they work, if someone signed up erroneously, we will tell them that their appointment is being canceled and will be rescheduled when it is appropriate under state and CDC guidelines to obtain the vaccine," Hackensack Meridian Health spokesman Mary Jo Layton said.

Hackensack said no one was inappropriately vaccinated and frontline workers will now be filtered on the MyChart portal and will be required to enter badge information when signing up, and then again when showing up for vaccines.

Patients like Blank, who received confirmed appointments, wonder why that wasn't done in the first place to avoid confusion.

"I feel vulnerable and upset particularly for people like my mother who I wish could have this vaccine," Blank said.

The big takeaway here:

Be very skeptical of links asking you to pre-register to get the vaccine. There are many scams out there trying to get your personal information to steal your identity.

Pre-register on your state's department of health. New York's just came online Monday. Just make sure you're on the correct .gov website.


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