What is a 'fauxmorbidity'? Yahoo News Explains

All 50 states have now announced timelines of when they plan to expand COVID vaccine eligibility to everyone 16 years and older. Until then, many states have opened up vaccine eligibility for people with underlying medical conditions. As reported by the New York Times, some Americans are stretching their own medical history to jump the line by taking liberty with their state's list of comorbidities — or medical conditions that put a person at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms. Yahoo News Medical Contributor Dr. Kavita Patel explains how people are skipping the line by claiming a "fauxmorbidity."

Video Transcript


KAVITA PATEL: A fauxmorbidity is what I would call stretching the truth a bit in order to meet qualifications to receive eligibility for a COVID vaccine, let's just say, earlier than it would probably be appropriate. The example I've seen the most frequently is someone who said that they're a smoker and might have only had maybe a cigarette or two within the last year on a social occasion, but is certainly not a chronic smoker. But smoking in many states qualifies you to receive vaccines earlier than if you were not a smoker with no other chronic conditions.

There are also many places that do not have obesity listed, but people have tried to stretch a little and say that if they're obese, then they're more disposed to have diabetes, even if they don't have diabetes, technically, but want to also have a qualifying medical condition.

Obesity is technically defined by a body mass index over 30. A body mass index over 25 is considered overweight. And we do have data that shows that overweight and obese people, in particular, fare worse when they get COVID, all other things being equal.

So I actually do think that obesity should be a qualifying medical condition, but unfortunately, in most states, it is not on the list for a chronic condition. Patients that I have never met before have approached me and asked for some sort of letter. And they'll tell me that they have one of these chronic conditions.

And then when I ask about other records, they don't have any. So that happens. But I have also had friends of mine who work mostly for telehealth companies, where a person will go on the app and ask for the doctor, who they've never met, to give them a letter. All of my friends are saying, no, because that's not really an appropriate use of the telehealth visit, but it is coming up a lot.

I think people are trying to jump the line because they're worried about missing out. They're worried that if they wait, then life being normal will be delayed, or that there might not be enough vaccine supply. I have heard that from people-- that they're worried that in a month, there will be no more vaccine, when the opposite is quite the truth that I expect in a month you might be able to walk into any pharmacy and actually have potentially a choice of vaccines or appointment slots, unlike today.

I have yet to find a lot of people, only one in the last three months, who's been turned away for not having proof, and actually one of my own patients being turned away for not having their specific medical conditions listed on the letter, when I, on purpose, did not list it because I didn't think it was the pharmacy's business to unders-- to know that information. But that has come up before about privacy issues or the lack of privacy issues.

I'm definitely-- in the beginning, was definitely prioritizing high-risk people. And that we were doing by age and people who are in nursing homes, health care workers. But I will tell you, today, I am at a stage anybody gets a vaccine.

If they're there, sleeves rolled up, and we have a vaccine to give, give it to them because the only way we're going to get to a more normal summer is by as many people being vaccinated. So I have been less concerned about the kind of fake claims, especially since we've really done a good job getting the highest risk populations vaccinated, not totally done, but pretty aggressive front of nursing homes and elderly people.

Overall, in the country, at least 72% of older Americans aged 65 and older have received one, if not both, of the vaccines to qualify for immunity. We're well on our way to getting, in some parts of the country, 80% to 85% fully vaccinated over the age of 65.

That's important because that had been an age group, where just by age alone, they were at higher risk for being hospitalized and dying from COVID. And we are seeing as a result of that vaccination effort a drop-- dramatic drop in hospitalizations and cases in that age group.

Interestingly enough, we're seeing an increase in cases in the younger age group, which is, in generally, not qualified for getting vaccinated today. But in many states, Texas, being the first one, March 29, opened up eligibility to anybody 16 and up.

I suspect in the next two to three weeks, that will absolutely change the desire to stretch the truth about your comorbidities, and it'll also make it easier if you're a pharmacy or clinic or hospital. You don't need to ask for proof of anything other than age.