92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

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This story was originally published by the Santa Barbara Independent and is reproduced here in partnership with Edhat.

By Tyler Hayden of The Independent

It was her first day on the job as a COVID-19 vaccination site volunteer when Elizabeth Wilbanks was told by Santa Barbara County Public Health Department supervisors to turn away a 92-year-old undocumented woman because she couldn’t produce a photo ID. The woman was advised to return with a library card or other form of identification to prove her eligibility as a county resident 75 or above. 

“It broke my heart,” said Wilbanks, a biology professor at UCSB. “We should have been able to do better. We know that voter photo ID laws discriminate against Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Chicanx communities with what courts have called ‘surgical precision.’ Why allow such practices to go forward when it’s a matter of life and death?”

The encounter took place February 3 in Santa Maria, said Wilbanks, whose role was to greet residents and ask them a handful of preliminary questions as they lined up for their shots. It was toward the end of a slow day, and there were plenty of extra vaccines on hand, she said.

The elderly woman remained in her car while her granddaughter spoke to the Public Health team, explaining her grandmother had only ever owned a Mexican ID, which was stolen, along with her purse, shortly before the pandemic began. She’d lost family and friends to the virus, the granddaughter said, and was so afraid of falling ill that she hadn’t left the house since March. 

After reading through Public Health’s website, she continued, the pair decided not to make an appointment so they wouldn’t take one of the limited spots from someone with the proper documentation. They were hoping the county would still be willing to help them.

Jackie Ruiz, the Public Health Department’s spokesperson, said the site team “worked with the individual to discuss if there were utility bills, insurance medical cards, as well as library cards that list a county address. Additionally, our team recommended a medical bill statement that would have the individual’s name and a county address.” As a general rule, Ruiz said, “We are committed to making sure that documentation is not a barrier to getting vaccinated.”

But that’s unfortunately what happened that day, Wilbanks said, as the request was sent up the ranks of Public Health and ultimately denied. “We didn’t do anything to remove the barrier,” she lamented. “What concerns me is that we gave this woman the burden of doing something more. Granted, many vaccines are now going to be routed through hospitals ― like Marian, Cottage, Sansum ― which may have different policies, but Public Health sets the tone.”

The woman’s granddaughter was brave enough to make her case in person, Wilbanks went on. What about all the other undocumented residents who may read Public Health’s website and decide to not even try? 

Wilbanks acknowledged the heroic work performed daily at the public vaccination sites across the county. “Generally, everyone is doing their damndest to get shots in arms,” she said. But she worries if the county’s hard-and-fast photo ID rule may be putting vulnerable populations off from receiving their vaccines. “Even asking for ID is intimidating and discouraging,” she said. “This is something as a community we should be talking about.” 

Ruiz said she was unaware of other such incidents. “Our team works very carefully to ensure we can get persons eligible and with appointments vaccinated,” she said. “We are open to being flexible and responsive to help ensure our vulnerable community members are vaccinated.”

At a virtual town hall meeting hosted by the Public Health Department last week, however, representatives of CAUSE (Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy) and MICOP (Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project) expressed concern about similar types of roadblocks.

Dalia Garcia passed along a story about a Mixteco resident of Santa Maria being asked at Albertsons for his Social Security number and proof of insurance. “These types of questions scare our community,” Garcia said. “It doesn’t allow for any comfort or trust in the vaccine.”

Public Health Director Dr. Van Do-Reynoso said she would “address that partner” and others to ensure that kind of thing didn’t happen “moving forward.”

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dukemunson Feb 19, 2021 09:06 PM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

Some clarity for all those that were faux outraged (or just seemingly clueless on how the vaccine needs to be administered):

As per public health:

Do-Reynoso clarified this the clinic was booked this day and the person did not have an appointment so there wasn't a vaccine available nevertheless, she is sorry this incident occurred. Due to a shortage in vaccine supply, same-day appointments are not available.

The family brought her with no appointment and no ID and demanded to be given the shot. This shot was already allocated for someone else who’s appointment would have needed to be canceled to accommodate her. Imagine the outrage if someone drove up from Montecito in their Porsche and demanded the shot for their family member right then and there... protocols and appointments be damned!

dukemunson Feb 19, 2021 09:26 PM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

Perhaps... but still a silly story (and subsequent righteous indignation on the part of many edhatters). She didn’t have an appointment... would you have advocated for canceling some other 75+ year olds appointment to accommodate right then and there?

sbsloth Feb 18, 2021 11:06 PM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

I'm totally baffled as to why a relative vouching for her identity wasn't acceptable? Presumably the granddaughter had ID or documentation of residency of some sort, so why wasn't she simply allowed to verify her grandmother's status? This is analogous to when a birth certificate documents the father of a newborn or what a Notary Public does when they verify a signature.

a-1613771712 Feb 19, 2021 01:55 PM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

They were trying to follow the rules so they wouldn’t be slammed for making unfair exceptions. It was a bad call, in my opinion, but they probably had made a commitment to stick with the rules to avoid claims of favoritism and discrimination. Sometimes you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

dukemunson Feb 19, 2021 07:31 AM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

She didn’t have an appointment... which was probably as big of an issue as not having an ID. You can’t just show up and get the vaccine without an appointment or ID... it might be possible to get it without one of the above, but not both. Would they have had to cancel on someone over 75 the following day who had an appointment because now they were down a shot?

Bob Wilson Feb 18, 2021 08:42 AM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

Where’s the compassion for the 75+ legal resident that CAN’T get the vaccine due to limited supply? It’s easy to say, “just give it to her”. What about legitimate local residents that get sent away? Where’s the compassion for them?
The consequences of sanctuary state BS

Bob Wilson Feb 18, 2021 04:40 PM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

So your compassion means my grandmother can’t get the vaccine, because you gave it to someone who is illegally in the country. Where’s your compassion for my grandmother?

bosco Feb 18, 2021 09:29 AM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

Not surprised someone would make that comment. The virus doesn't discriminate by immigration status. It is in all our best interest for ALL human beings in the community to vaccinated.

dukemunson Feb 18, 2021 09:13 AM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

This analogy makes no sense. This situation is much more akin to someone swimming along and noticing a nice kayak. They demand it be given to them at once and when asked for an ID as a means to encourage them to bring it back at some point they are outraged.

SBWalkers Feb 18, 2021 07:45 AM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

OOPS, so if you are swimming along and begin to drown, and a lifeguard pulls you in, you are in a 'coma', nobody knows you... so they cannot help you, or take you to a hospital because you don't have a card? - huh?

a-1613662906 Feb 18, 2021 07:41 AM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

You should be ashamed of this comment. Xenophobia and racism are alive and well in Santa Barbara, my friends. We are in a global pandemic. Get over your fears and hatred and try to learn compassion.

PitMix Feb 18, 2021 06:55 AM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

Jesus would approve of your comments. Not. Lucky we are not really a Christian nation any more.

It seems easy to view these people as law breakers deserving punishment. The harder question is what has the US done throughout history to meddle in these other countries and make conditions worse there, driving them to migrate in desperate circumstances? And what part does the Catholic Church play in overpopulation which also is a factor in migration?

Idesofmarch Feb 17, 2021 06:56 PM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

I agree OOPS. The "undocumented" term to begin with is misleading, as it isn't simply a clerical error or lack of hard copy paperwork declaring the bearer is in this country legally. People who are not here legally should not have equal footing when it comes to receiving benefits provided by the tax payer, whether it be health benefit, food or housing. For these "undocumented" people requesting the vaccination, there should be some arrangement involving a fee for those who can't show they're residents of this country. To deny them the opportunity to pay for the vaccine in lieu of "missing documents" is a bit harsh.

ChemicalSuperFreak Feb 17, 2021 05:46 PM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

Without some form of ID, what would prevent a person with dementia from going to different clinics and getting repeatedly injected with the vaccine? Maybe they call a different person to give them a ride each time, so no one friend or family member is keeping track. The only people keeping track of the vaccinations in an official capacity are the county/state health departments. At least I hope there is a database that goes along with the number of administered doses on the county and state dashboards. It seems reasonable they need at least one document that has the woman's name printed on it so they're not liable for any harm should someone seek repeated vaccinations for any reasons. I'm wondering if a utility bill would even suffice, though at 92 I'd bet family members handle all of that for her. It's a shame, since she needs the vaccine and should get one ASAP, but I also see why they'd insist on something with her name on it.

yiannis93101 Feb 17, 2021 05:15 PM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

Well God Bless America.....and perfect Santa Barbara County. This entire vaccine program in SB HAS BEEN NOTHING BUT A XXXX-SHOW!
We honestly refused her? Because of no ID? Really? WHY? The entire world needs to be vaccinated! Do you think someone in Kenya, or people in Vanuatu are going to show a drivers license or a library card! Let’s line people up, give them the dang shot and get on with our lives. We don’t need the typical Santa Barbara red tape in this situation.

dukemunson Feb 17, 2021 05:20 PM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

She had no appointment or ID (and pretty much any paper with her name on it was sufficient as an ID). There is no absolutely nowhere in the world where you could show up today wi try out an appointment or anything showing who you are and get the vaccine. That is ridiculous of her family to put her through that. Leave her home and show up to ask what’s needed and how to work around/through the issue... showing up and demanding it without an appointment or ID is crazy.

dukemunson Feb 17, 2021 04:23 PM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

I’ve spent time in countries where I would feel at least somewhat confident in showing up at a medical site without an appointment or an ID and getting a vaccine... but not without a large amount of cash! That’s a pretty bold/rough combo to show up with... NO APPOINTMENT and NO ID!

yacht rocked Feb 17, 2021 02:54 PM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

It's hard to believe that the woman in question hadn't left her house since March and yet could not produce any sort of utility bill, medical bill or card, or any sort of ID, even expired. Yes, someone should have broken the rule, given her the vax, and begged for forgiveness, but still - don't let grandma turn 93 without getting some sort of ID, or it will just cause even more issues in her future.

dukemunson Feb 18, 2021 08:47 AM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

Chillin - Everyone having an ID isn’t racist... it’s just logical. Considering the trillions in stimulus checks going out that you presumably need an ID to get/cash... not to mention enrolling your kids in school and just generally being a part of society and enjoying/benefiting from it. This constant fight to keep people from having an ID via conspiracy theories is crazy and unbelievably short sighted. It’s not a political issue at all... get this lady an ID and help her!

dukemunson Feb 18, 2021 08:43 AM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

Chillin - your comment here is just all kinds of crazy!!! Almost everyone over 18 in our society has an ID... which makes sense and is good for them. You need an ID to access much of what America has to offer... Limiting and making excuses for people not to get an ID under the guise of insane conspiracy theories is reprehensible.

ChillinGrillin Feb 18, 2021 07:56 AM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

CSR: Voter ID and suppression laws are only in GOP states, that's just a fact. Their voter base is dying off and for some reason racist nationalist nostalgia doesn't play well with minorities. It's weird the GOP is so worried about becoming a minority in the US, is that a bad thing or something? Lol

Voice of Reason Feb 18, 2021 06:57 AM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

I can think a lot of adjectives to describe Trump but the cancel culture progressive left, and Newsom in particular, is a much better fit to the actual definition of authoritarian. Remember, just because a journalist (used loosely these days) says something doesn’t make it true.

Voice of Reason Feb 18, 2021 06:51 AM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

favoring or enforcing strict obedience to authority, especially that of the government, at the expense of personal freedom.

ChillinGrillin Feb 17, 2021 11:46 PM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

Duke: The reality of government overreach is timeless and repeated on a large scale in almost every country's history. You're right, it's not the 18th century. The government has the technology and capacity to implant tracking microchips in everyone, as a poster below suggested. But what happens when an authoritarian with a few dozen more IQ points than Trump takes over? All of that data and the ability to control is in government hands. Making identifying yourself to the government a precondition to live should not be a continuing trend in the longterm.

dukemunson Feb 17, 2021 09:39 PM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

It seems fundamental and foundational. I’ve never understood why groups like CAUSE find every reason to fight against it...it truly is a way for people to enter and be a part of society. Let’s get everyone an ID and do it in a non election year as that seems to make everyone insane.

Seabird Feb 17, 2021 09:13 PM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

@Duke, you are very passionate about this ID situation. There are many barriers to obtaining identification post-911, which many find insurmountable. Perhaps you could look into spearheading this effort in our county? I would help.

dukemunson Feb 17, 2021 08:54 PM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

I was in Louisiana for a month helping post Katrina... so I understand and appreciate your point. But we are 11 months into a Pandemic and 3 months into a rickety vaccination roll-out... her family driving her to a vaccination spot without an appointment or an ID is crazy. There was no chance of success there. The bar is quite low for establishing residency... her family made absolutely no effort. Hopefully someone followed up and got her set up... but to just show up with nothing expecting the most sought after thing in the world right now is pretty spectacular confidence...

dukemunson Feb 17, 2021 06:29 PM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

Tell me more as I am genuinely baffled!!!! Why the push against an ID from the far right and right? It’s a fundamental aspect of being part of a society... I truly don’t see any logical explanation for not having an id...

Ahchooo Feb 17, 2021 06:14 PM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

Absolutely, Duke, we should make a push to get everyone an ID. It would be a good focus for progressive groups, at least in states where one needs ID to vote. I understand that as a country we’ve shied away from a uniform government ID, but personally, I’m ready for everyone to get chipped—if we could make the chips unalterable and keep them from being trackable except at super-close range, kinda like a fingerprint.

dukemunson Feb 17, 2021 05:26 PM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

Chillin - We’re not living in the 18th century... It’s 2021...things have changed... id’s for all (and less guns!) make sense! Your argument is where the extreme on the left and the extreme on the right meet... and it’s nonsensical and crazy. We don’t need anyone and everyone to have a gun to keep the tyranny of the government in check and it makes sense for everyone to have the ability to actually show who they are... that is quite reasonable!

ChillinGrillin Feb 17, 2021 05:00 PM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

Duke: Is giving the government a complete database of names and addresses a good idea in the longterm? For special cases like political refugees or domestic violence/stalking victims, it's common sense to stay off the grid, even as far as to avoid ID's and their attached DMV records. In this case, requiring a 93-year-old to have ID is downright silly. Conservatives only want IDs to make voting harder, libs want it to spread access to government services. The US was never meant to be a country where the government and law enforcement could identify you easily. If that was an option in the 18th century, many of the founders would have been hung for treason. Efficiency can easily be twisted into tyranny.

dukemunson Feb 17, 2021 03:19 PM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

AHCHOO - Fair enough...but then why not make a big push to get everyone an ID of some sort? It's in everyone's best interest as it's a fundamental part of being in a society. It gives people access to government services and programs. In 2021 everyone should have an ID...and groups like CAUSE should be pushing hard for that.

Ahchooo Feb 17, 2021 03:14 PM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

I was surprised after the Katrina hurricane how many poor people in New Orleans had no ID. It’s hard for relatively affluent people to understand. But if you never had a car in the family, only took buses, your parents lost your birth certificate long ago... how do you get a new ID? You have to get to some public building far from home, show some other documents you don’t have, etc. This 92-year-old didn’t have utilities in her name—she lives with family. Her Mexican ID is lost. Maybe she hasn’t gone to a doctor here. And as for the library card: you need ID to get one.

dukemunson Feb 17, 2021 05:59 PM
92-Year-Old Undocumented Woman Denied COVID-19 Vaccine

So the only thing that the family didn’t bring with them... was the ONLY thing that they need to bring with them?? I’m not outraged at all... I’m understanding of why they denied her a vaccine that is nearly impossible for most people to get. The ability / need to document who is getting the shot is quite important... how do you not see that?


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