Mason Aiken, 9, sits across from his mother, Monica Aiken, while waiting to receive the COVID-19 booster shot at a vaccine clinic at La Mirada Academy in San Marcos, Calif. in March. (Brittany Cruz-Fejeran/inewsource)

San Diego County changed its public-facing COVID-19 vaccine policy to say its vaccine clinics will accept a broad range of documents to verify identity after an inewsource investigation found health staff turned away individuals who wanted a vaccine but could not provide a photo ID.  

In April, inewsource reported that a north San Diego County Latino immigrant rights group, Universidad Popular, saw members of the community denied vaccinations for not being able to provide a photo ID. At the time, the county’s public-facing literature said people seeking vaccinations must show a photo ID. 

Why this matters

Advocates say the county’s photo ID requirements have made vaccinating undocumented individuals more difficult in communities with already low vaccination rates.

Advocates feared that requirement would discourage people living in the United States without permission from getting vaccinated. 

Officials told inewsource that the county’s policy was to work with people seeking vaccines without a photo ID to verify their identity. However, emails obtained by inewsource showed confusion among county health staff about what type of documentation was needed to receive a vaccine.  

The emails suggested staff had turned away individuals who did not provide a photo ID at the vaccine clinics.  

Asked by inewsource how many people have been turned away for not having a photo ID, a county spokesperson could not provide an answer. Officials do not track those instances, he said.  

The county maintains that its internal policy has always been to accept a broad range of ID, but recently changed the policy on its website to reflect that.  

The website now reads that at vaccine clinics adults “must provide a photo ID (other methods of identification verification accepted) AND proof of age (something that shows date of birth).”  

According to the county, acceptable forms of identification in cases where someone cannot provide a photo ID include:  

  • Driver license from foreign country  
  • Paycheck 
  • Consular card 
  • Report card
  • Utility or phone bill 
  • Confirmation from a family member or employer who has a photo ID 
  • Previous entry into the San Diego County vaccine registry 

Nora Vargas, who co-chairs the San Diego County Board of Supervisors’ COVID-19 subcommittee, tasked with assisting the county’s response to the pandemic, said she was “taken aback” by inewsource’s reporting.  

Vargas, District 1 supervisor, said her mission on the committee since she joined has been in part to ensure equitable access to vaccines. 

“This is not supposed to be happening. There are not supposed to be barriers for our communities,” Vargas said.  

Vargas said she followed up with her team to share the reports and ensure that all county health staff are properly trained and informed on the types of documentation acceptable to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.  

The supervisor emphasized that some type of documentation confirming identity is important for medical record keeping purposes.  

Lilian Serrano, co-director at Universidad Popular,  said after inewsource’s investigation published, the county supervisor’s office for her district reached out to say it was “directing county staff to make the necessary changes.”  

Health staff at the vaccine clinics in her area “have been a lot more willing to work with community members who do not have an ID,” Serrano said in a text.  

Vargas said “human error” may sometimes lead to someone being wrongfully turned away, but her office is available to ensure access to vaccines for everyone in the county.  

“If anybody gets turned away, anything happens, let them call my office, call 211, and we’ll make it happen,” Vargas said.  

Vargas encouraged anyone who is turned away from a vaccine at a county clinic to call her office at 619-531-5511. 

Type of Content

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Sofía Mejías-Pascoe is a border and immigration reporter covering the U.S.-Mexico region and the people who live, work and pass through the area. Mejías-Pascoe was previously a general assignment reporter and intern with inewsource, where she covered the pandemic’s toll inside prisons and detention...