MEDFORD, Ore. — Providence Health & Services acknowledged on Thursday that some of its board members received the COVID-19 vaccine, despite Oregon's guidance prioritizing front-line healthcare workers and first responders for receiving the meager supply of doses.
Providence spokesman Gary Walker said that the healthcare provider has issued vaccine invitations to more than 27,000 people — including employees; medical staff; and members of Providence's Oregon Community Ministry Board, the provider's statewide governing entity.
Walker said that these invitations aligned with Oregon's guidance as of December 18, 2020. Among those thousands of invitations, 24 board members — 18 in Medford and 6 in Seaside — were contacted about vaccine availability.
The Medford group, which included some foundation members, volunteered to be on a waiting list for any available unused doses at the end of a day. In Seaside, Walker said, six foundation and community board members accepted invitations to be vaccinated.
"As people who are registered with the county to serve as volunteer staff at vaccine clinics, these six individuals were eligible to be vaccinated under Oregon’s guidelines," Walker said.
Oregon Health Authority representative Jonathan Modie told NewsWatch 12 that vaccinating hospital administrators, managers, executives, board members, or other staff without potential exposure to sick patients does not align with the state's Phase 1a guidance — with the caveat that the rules in the early days of vaccine roll-out were somewhat more nebulous.
"Early on, when the only vaccine available in Oregon was Pfizer’s vaccine, which required ultra-cold storage, OHA did allow hospitals and other providers some flexibility in using every dose available in their inventory, recognizing there may be times when it was important that a thawed dose be used quickly rather than risk that dose going to waste," Modie said.
As Oregon’s COVID-19 vaccination effort has moved forward, Modie said, and without any great expansion in the supply of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, providers "must make sure" that doses go only to individuals who are eligible to receive them — meaning staff who have the greatest potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients or infection.
Regardless, Modie said that OHA is not pursuing sanctions against vaccine providers who inoculate people of "dubious" eligibility.
Some local vaccine providers have openly made the decision, when doses have been in danger of expiration, to vaccinate people near at hand regardless of eligiblity. Josephine County Public Health's efforts to use leftover doses on drivers stuck waiting on a snowbound Highway 199 made national headlines. Days later, Klamath County Public Health gave doses to patients at a nearby clinic after overestimating the need at the Klamath Falls Gospel Mission.
These decisions, however, provided vaccines to a relatively random sample of the population.
"We’re asking people who work or volunteer in health care, or serve on health care boards, to do the right thing: If your work doesn’t put you at risk of direct or indirect exposure to patients or infectious materials, you probably aren’t part of Phase 1a, you aren’t eligible, and you should wait your turn to get vaccinated," Modie said.
Providence voiced a commitment to following through on those admonishments from state officials.
"In retrospect, we understand that in our haste to vaccinate people quickly and/or avoid wasting doses, including a small number of our hospital community created the impression that some people are able to use their access to get a vaccination appointment," said Walker. "This was not in line with our organization’s standard practice and we have made changes. We are making sure our processes to vaccinate people as quickly and efficiently as possible do not raise concerns about fairness or equity."