Californians with high-risk health conditions can soon get vaccinated. What proof will be needed? – San Francisco Chronicle

Adults under 65 with disabilities and underlying health conditions will soon be eligible to get coronavirus vaccinations, but disability rights advocates worry that efforts to require people to prove their eligibility could prevent or discourage some from being injected with the potentially life-saving vaccine.

Beginning March 15, two groups of younger, high-risk Californians — people with disabilities and people with severe underlying conditions — will be able to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, state health officials announced Friday.

But they haven’t yet said how high-risk Californians will be asked to prove they qualify, or how authorities plan to prevent people who don’t meet those qualifications from making appointments or otherwise cutting in line. California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said the state will spend the next month determining what type of verification would be required.

For a senior to prove he or she qualifies for vaccination because of age, a driver’s license or other ID will do. For a person with a disability or an ailment to prove he or she qualifies for vaccination, medical authorities say, no universal document is available.

Some disability rights advocates downplay the likelihood of fraud but say that making the process of proving disabilities or underlying health conditions could be too onerous and end up either preventing or discouraging some people from getting shots.

“As a person with a disability, I want to make sure we don’t have to have proof of our disability that requires people to jump through too many hoops,” said Christina Mills, executive director of the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers and a member of a committee advising the state on its vaccination rollout.

The underlying conditions that will result in vaccine eligibility in March include cancer, chronic kidney disease at stage four or above, chronic pulmonary disease, Down syndrome, a weakened immune system from a solid organ transplant, sickle cell disease, pregnancy, heart conditions, severe obesity — defined as a body mass index at or over 40 — and Type 2 diabetes. The state did not specify which disabilities would qualify people to be included in this next group.

Andy Imparato, executive director of Disability Rights California, also an advisory committee member, said many people with severe disabilities have cards or documents enrolling them with programs or centers or showing that they receive in-home care. But people with some disabilities and qualifying underlying conditions don’t necessarily carry cards that would prove their eligibility.

A woman in early pregnancy, for example, might have nothing more than the results of a home pregnancy test to prove her right to a shot under the expanded eligibility rules.

Requiring eligible people to visit or call their physicians to get some sort of verification could be difficult because many medical providers are already overburdened, he said. Mills said disability rights advocates fought off proposals that would have required those seeking vaccinations to provide three pieces of proof of disability or underlying conditions.

“My hope is that concerns about fraud do not create barriers to people getting the vaccine,” Imparato said.

Imparato and Mills both said they don’t anticipate a lot of people feigning disabilities to get vaccines, but acknowledge that it’s a concern of state officials.

Bending the rules is not unknown in connection with health-related exemptions. Law enforcement officials have long complained of abuses in the use of blue disabled parking permits by non-disabled persons, and airlines have been concerned about the proliferation of emotional support companions — to the point that some are taking action to ban them on flights.

San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Steve Rubenstein contributed to this report.

Michael Cabanatuan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: mcabanatuan@sfchroicle.com

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Californians with high-risk health conditions can soon get vaccinated. What proof will be needed? – San Francisco Chronicle

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