The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) on Monday told hospitals, clinics and other providers not to provide special access to coronavirus vaccines and warned they may risk supply reductions if caught.
"VIP scheduling, reserving doses for inequitable or exclusive access, and similar practices are banned and will not be tolerated," said a DOH email to all enrolled vaccine providers. "If we find out a provider is giving out vaccine inequitably or is doing behaviors listed above or similar, we may reduce or stop allocations to that provider."
In stories last week, The Seattle Times revealed that three medical systems in the region — Providence Regional Medical Center, Overlake Medical Center & Clinics and EvergreenHealth — gave special access to major donors or foundation board members, raising concerns about whether the state could equitably administer vaccine doses.
Hospital officials have said they were testing scheduling software or trying to fill vaccine appointments quickly by using familiar contacts. Two of the organizations acknowledged they'd made a mistake in prioritizing influential people.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan on Friday urged the state to reallocate vaccine doses to community health clinics serving low-income communities of color, something a spokesperson for Gov. Jay Inslee's office said Friday was already in progress.
In response to last week's stories, AFP Advancement Northwest, a local chapter of fundraising professionals that includes those working with hospitals, scheduled an "ethics summit" for Thursday.
Daniel Webb, president of AFP Advancement Northwest's board of directors, described the special invites as "a glaring example of unethical behavior."
"We care about donors," Webb said. "We can't care about them more than the people that we serve."
The DOH's Monday advisory to providers — which said vaccines should be distributed in a "fair and equitable manner" — outlined the banned practices in broad terms. It barred VIP appointment scheduling; offering special or exclusive appointments; holding back doses for donors, members, employees or friends and family; vaccinating people before they are eligible; and other similar practices.
So far, the state has not restricted any provider's vaccine allocation, according to Shelby Anderson, a DOH spokesperson.
The Washington State Hospital Association worked with the department on the letter, president Cassie Sauer said in a Monday news briefing.
"We've heard also about friends and family events at pharmacies or medical clinics saying you can only get vaccinated here if you're one of our patients of record," Sauer said. "We don't support any of those kinds of special access programs."
Inslee is considering an executive order about special access to vaccines and could take action as soon as this week, though nothing has been finalized, according to a spokesperson.
Seattle Times reporter Mike Reicher contributed to this report.
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