Beware of scammers as vaccines come on board

By Nathan Gregory
MSU Extension Service
The saying goes that tough times bring out the best and worst in people. The COVID-19 pandemic is no exception, and consumers need to be wary of potential fraud related to the vaccine as it is rolled out.
Those who have not yet scheduled an appointment to receive their first dose will be waiting another month. On Jan. 15, the Mississippi State Department of Health reported that appointments may be limited until late January, as most of the state’s available vaccine inventory had already been scheduled or distributed.
A new shipment is expected by February. Residents 65 and over and people with chronic health conditions who have not already made appointments will be able to schedule their first doses at that time.
Becky Smith, a family financial management specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said two of the most important facts to keep in mind about the vaccine is that it will be free of charge, and it will require an appointment to receive.
“Scammers never miss an opportunity to capitalize on the latest crisis, and they are constantly adapting their methods to swindle as many people as possible,” she said. “The rule of thumb in this situation is to not trust anyone who contacts you offering a vaccine, and be on the lookout for different ways they may try to do that.”
No legitimate organization will ask for Social Security, credit card, or bank account information.
“Phishers may try to contact unsuspecting people through phone calls, texts, emails, or social media,” Smith said. “There is a good chance that someone trying to sell you a vaccine is really just trying to steal your money or identity. You will not have to pay out of pocket to receive the vaccine. Anyone who receives these types of solicitations should report them to the state attorney general’s office.
“No health department or Medicare representative will call or visit you unprompted to help you schedule an appointment,” she said. “When the next shipment arrives, you will have to schedule one online or over the phone to get your vaccine.”
No one can pay for early access to the vaccine or have shots delivered to their residence, and any such offers are fraudulent.
“You should get your vaccination only from your doctor, a hospital or clinic, or a licensed pharmacy. There will be no do-it-yourself versions of the vaccine,” said MSU Extension health specialist David Buys. “Do not respond to emails, phone calls, or online ads from people or organizations you don’t know who are trying to sell or send you a vaccine, and don’t click on any links they send you, as those could download viruses on your device.”
The federal government has paid for all the doses that will be distributed in the U.S.
“If someone tries to charge you money for the vaccine, that may be a sign they are not a distributor you can trust,” Buys said. “However, some clinics may charge to give you the vaccine shot (not for the vaccine itself), so not all fees associated with the vaccine are suspicious.”
Two doses of vaccine are necessary to be protected against COVID-19. Patients who have already received their first dose should still be able to schedule their second. The manufacturers for the vaccine shipments received by Mississippi providers are Moderna and Pfizer, but others may be approved.
“The COVID-19 vaccines are not interchangeable, so if you get a Pfizer dose the first time, your second dose must also be from Pfizer,” Buys said. “You will receive a reminder card, and you may also receive a text message notice.”
For more information on COVID-19 scams, visit https://www.consumerresources.org/beware-coronavirus-scams/#toggle-id-7. A list of statewide vaccine providers by county is available at https://msdh.ms.gov/msdhsite/_static/resources/12232.pdf.
Monitor local news outlets to learn when the next vaccine supply will be available, and schedule an appointment by calling 877-978-6453 or going online at https://covidvaccine.umc.edu/ at that time.