Update: As of May 29, a Colorado state health department spokesman confirmed that people who got their COVID vaccinations at VA hospitals and clinics will now be eligible to win Colorado's $1 million drawings. Previously, those vaccinated at a VA facility were left out. Our original story continues below.
The $1 million drawings announced this week to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations have exposed gaps in a state vaccine database while pointing up inequities among those who might get a shot at the cash.
Among those who might be shut out, at least for now, are military veterans who received their vaccinations at Veterans Administration facilities in the state.
The announcement by Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday prompted scores of Coloradans to search the state's immunization database only to find that their shots aren't displayed when they search by name, date of birth and contact information. One was Scott Lee, a 37-year-old Navy veteran in Centennial who got shots through the VA.
“I'm a little bit disappointed that my name's not in the running,” Lee said. “Yeah. I dunno, maybe bittersweet. I'm happy to have gotten the vaccine, so that's really like all I really wanted. But a chance at winning a million dollars, it seems like a pretty good opportunity.”
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According to the VA’s website, as many as 65,000 people in Colorado got fully vaccinated through its system, but they aren’t currently part of the state’s database. A VA spokeswoman said the two sides are trying to sort things out.
"We are in daily communication with the state to see how we can make it work," said Brandy Morrison, Public Affairs Officer with the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center.
Time is short to find a solution. The first drawing for $1 million will take place Wednesday, with the winner to be announced Friday.
A spokeswoman with the state health department, via email, said the VA “does not enter vaccination information into CIIS (the state’s database.) That said, we are working with the Department of Veterans Affairs to find a solution to ensure they are eligible for the prize.”
While it can be tricky to search through the database, some vaccine records simply aren't there.
And veterans aren’t alone.
It is hard to know exactly how many people there are who have received vaccinations in Colorado but are not listed in the state system. In many cases, people are failing to find their records in the public portion of the state database because they used a nickname or a different email address when they made their vaccine appointment and have since forgotten it.
But the state health department acknowledged Thursday that as many as 11 percent of immunizations statewide are not reaching the database within 72 hours of administration.
“Interestingly only my first COVID vaccination was listed, both of my mom’s were listed and we got them at the same time,” Anne Lindsey wrote to CPR. “I figure I am one of the people the state has listed, incorrectly, as waiting for my second dose. I would guess getting this database cleaned up could be a secondary benefit of the sweepstakes.”
Others initially couldn't find themselves at all.
“I admit I never would have looked at the state immunization record system without the news of the sweepstakes, but I did look ours up, and we’re not in the system,” wrote another, Constance Edwards.
She said she and her spouse got their vaccines in April and May. He got his through King Soopers, she got hers through the federal site at UCHealth Loveland.
Edwards, who eventually found her records, raised the broader question the discrepancies raise: “How are people getting into the system, and how can someone correct their own record if it doesn’t exist or isn’t accurate?”
Lee, the Navy veteran, said his wife got vaccinated at Coors Field and all of her information was in the database when they checked.
“So she has a chance, that's fair,” he said.
Lee contacted the VA to see if he could get his name on the list. He was told none of the people that work there are in the database either and that the VA was trying “to work with Colorado to figure out.”
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Sometimes, a call to the person's vaccine provider can fix the issue.
The state said individuals can contact the provider who administered the vaccine to them to ask if they were entered into the state system.
“We are aware that some individuals are having a difficult time verifying their immunization information” through the online Colorado Immunization Information System (CIIS) portal, said the health department spokeswoman. She said problems are most likely due to information the provider reported not exactly matching what individuals are entering in the portal.
When searching through the portal, she said, the following fields must match exactly what the provider entered: first name, last name, date of birth, gender, and mobile phone number and/or email address.
“So if someone goes by John Smith, but their medical provider has their name as Jonathan Smith. that is what they should use to search. In addition, if a provider misspelled a name or had a typo in the entry, there will not be a match,” said the spokeswoman.
A decidedly unscientific and informal survey of CPR staff found that 23 people were able to find their vaccination records in the state’s database, and 8 were not. And the reasons varied. In one case, a call to a Walmart pharmacy found that they had not entered a vaccination record because they forgot to record which arm they injected. After talking with the CPR employee, their record was uploaded.
CDPHE suggested the issues won’t present broader problems with the drawings.
The plan is for Colorado to award $1 million each week to five lucky COVID-19 vaccine recipients, part of a growing number of states trying to reverse declining vaccine interest through giveaways.
“While there could be a slight lag between vaccinations and providers entering the information in the system, we are confident the majority of providers are entering information in a timely manner,” said the spokeswoman.
Others who are not included in the drawing without extra effort are Coloradans who got their vaccinations in a different state. Those who were vaccinated elsewhere can contact the CIIS help desk, found here, and provide proof of vaccination to be added to the database for drawings.
This story has been corrected to include the procedure those who were vaccinated out of state can use to become eligible for the drawings.
What To Know About COVID Vaccines In Colorado
- Your Always Up-To-Date Guide To Finding The Info You Need
- Where can I go without an appointment? These 6 Colorado COVID Vaccine Sites
- Do you live in or around Pueblo? Heads Up — The Mass COVID Vaccination Site At The Colorado State Fairgrounds In Pueblo Will Close In June
- Do I need to wear a mask anymore? In Colorado, “If You’re Vaccinated, You Don’t Need To Wear A Mask,” Polis Says
- Can I get time off work to get my shot? Colorado Employers Have To Give Paid Time Off For COVID-19 Vaccinations
- What are the side effects like? Here's What To Expect From The COVID Vaccine (And Why It Still Beats Getting Sick)
- Is Colorado seeing more COVID vaccine hesitancy? The Number Of Appointments Available Says Yes
- Wait, how does this sweepstakes work? Well, The $1 Million Colorado Vaccine Drawing Isn’t Technically A Lottery, For One