“This is the hottest commodity that is out there right now, so we have to be very careful,” Raul Pino, the director of the health department in Orange County, said at a news briefing Thursday.
The women, both younger than 45, “dressed up as grannies,” wearing bonnets, gloves and glasses to disguise themselves as older than 65, the age cutoff to be prioritized to get the coronavirus vaccine in Florida, said Pino, whose county includes Orlando.
Orange County Sheriff’s Office deputies at the site scolded the women for acting older, saying their ruse was “selfish,” and they should wait their turn, according to body camera footage provided by the sheriff’s office Friday.
“You’ve stolen a vaccine from someone that needs it more than you,” one deputy said to the women. “And now you’re not going to get your second one. So that’s a whole waste of time we just wasted on this.”
When deputies warned the women that they would be arrested if they returned and said they were lucky to be allowed to leave, the women responded that they understood and apologized.
The Florida women’s costumes may have succeeded before. Both had the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention card indicating they had received their first doses. Pino said he did not know how they could have been previously vaccinated, but on Wednesday, workers at the site at the Orange County Convention Center caught on.
Once the staff noticed the discrepancy with their birthdays listed on their driver’s licenses, the women, 44 and 34, were referred to the deputies, who issued trespass warnings against them, the sheriff’s office said.
The women, whom The Washington Post is not identifying because they have not been charged, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday evening.
Security at the site was heightened in the wake of the incident, said Kent Donahue, a spokesman for the health department.
Pino said there have been a few cases of people trying to trick health workers into getting vaccinated, including a man who had the same name as his elderly father.
“As we are engaged in this process trying to move quickly, some people could squeeze in, so it’s probably higher than we suspect,” he said of the number of people who might lie to get vaccinated.
Last month, authorities identified a wealthy Canadian couple who had posed as locals in a remote Indigenous community to take doses meant for elders. Meanwhile, an Indiana health department issued a warning earlier this month against what it called “a substantial lack of morality” after people had lied to vaccination site workers about their addresses, jobs and ages.
The state has been allocated 3.4 million doses and administered more than 2.5 million first doses, according to data compiled by The Post.
Orange County has vaccinated more than 200,000 people, Pino said, adding that the county is increasing its capacity to keep up with desire in the community.
“It’s great to see that demand,” he said. “We haven’t had any lack of willing arms to get vaccinated. … We have people faking to be old to get vaccinated.”
Asked if it was frustrating to him that the two women skipped the queue, Pino said it wasn’t up to him to determine who should be next in line, referring to the prioritization scale set up by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who was criticized this week after he unveiled a “pop-up” clinic offering vaccines in an affluent, mostly White neighborhood of Manatee County, Fla.
“Our job as a health department is to vaccinate as many people as possible,” Pino said.