SCHENECTADY — If you get a call from someone pitching COVID vaccination information, or offering a chance to squeak ahead in line, some advice:
“Nobody will be cold-calling someone asking for your Social Security number to do anything,” said county Interim Public Health Director Keith Brown.
And there will be no jumping the queue in a very specific roadmap for who receives the vaccine and when.
As the vaccination process gears up, scams are making the rounds, and Schenectady County is among the agencies sounding the alarm.
The state Division of Consumer Protection is also warning of cons seeking to capitalize on the rollout, which so far, is limited to nursing home residents, hospital staff and first responders, among other populations who are at high risk of exposure, including residents of congregate settings.
Scams include falsely claiming to be online sellers of the vaccination, fake emails and texts that contain harmful links designed to steal personal information and using robocalls to pitch vaccination information, according to the state agency.
“The arrival of the COVID-19 vaccination brings along hope for so many of us, but it also creates new opportunities for unscrupulous scammers to attempt to lure people into unintentionally providing their personal information,” said Secretary of State Rossana Rosado in a statement.
Attorney General Letitia James has similarly warned of bad actors, including those who impersonate public health officials from the Center for Disease Control or the World Health Organization.
Scammers may also offer to ship a vaccine directly to homes, provide special access or clinical trials, or sell special cold storage devices.
So far, 140,000 New Yorkers have received their first vaccine dose, and the state expects to receive 259,000 additional doses this week.
Under state guidance, regional hospitals are taking the lead in setting up strategies.
Albany Medical Center will oversee and coordinate efforts for the eight-county region, where vaccinations began Dec. 23.
Brown said the county is awaiting guidance on the precise interplay between the hub and the county Public Health Department’s role in administering the vaccine.
Early plans call for a pod-type model, he said.
“We just received notice that we will be getting doses of vaccines, so we will be rolling out our own pods over the next few weeks,” Brown said. “We anticipate continuing with vaccine administration through all phases.”
The state has also put out calls for a volunteer Medical Reserve Corps to augment operations.
The timeline is based on availability and how quickly the first phase is administered.
While the exact logistical details and timeline is yet-to-be-determined, the county’s plans call for county public health workers to partner with Hometown Health and Ellis Medicine to administer the vaccine in a phased-in system, with health care workers, staff and some residents of OPWDD, OMH, and OASAS facilities, EMS and other front-line responders in the first phase.
Over time, the county will set up an appointment-type system.
“People need to be registered for an appointment slot to come into one of our administration clinics,” Brown said.
The county will work with the state in announcing the phases.
“Nobody will be cold-calling someone’s house to say, ‘You’re eligible for a vaccination,’” Brown said.
That’s where awareness of fraudsters becomes critically important.
“The phases are very prescribed,” Brown said. “There’s no jumping the line if you don’t qualify for one of those categories.”
That’s not to say doctors offices won’t be calling their patients to coordinate vaccines once the distribution effort expands, or that patients won’t be self-directed by trusted sources in their networks to register.
But be wary of unknown actors, Brown said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said vaccines won’t start to reach healthy adults by April.
Brown stressed that the only way to end the pandemic is for widespread vaccinations.
Schenectady County logged two additional COVID-related deaths on Tuesday, bringing the total number of fatalities to 79.
Over a fifth of county residents who have been felled by the virus have died in December alone, making it the deadliest stretch of the pandemic, which is now entering its tenth month.
“At this point, we’ve really achieved community spread and it’s difficult to do reasonable containment through contact tracing and investigation,” Brown said.