State Watch

Washington state officials warn providers offering VIP vaccine access

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Washington state authorities on Monday warned hospitals and providers that their supply of coronavirus vaccines may be cut if they are caught providing “VIP” special access to the vaccine, The Associated Press reports.

“VIP scheduling, reserving doses for inequitable or exclusive access, and similar practices are banned and will not be tolerated,” the Washington Department of Health said in an email. “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.”

The statement from officials follows a Seattle Times report that identified three health systems in the area — Providence Regional Medical Center, Overlake Medical Center & Clinics and EvergreenHealth — that had engaged in providing vaccines to big donors or foundation members.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) rebuked Overlake Medical Center last week for providing special vaccine access to large donors.

In an email obtained by the Times, chief development officer Molly Stearns offered donors who had given more than $10,000 to Overlake special scheduling access for the vaccine.

“We’re pleased to share that we have 500 new open appointments in the Overlake COVID-19 vaccine clinic, beginning this afternoon and tomorrow (Saturday, Jan. 23) and next week,” Stearns wrote. Access to the exclusive appointments was cut off after a policy adviser from Inslee’s office contacted the hospital.

“If, in fact, they were giving preference to some VIP list, that’s not the way to do it. That is not acceptable for us. We need to give everybody a fair shot at the vaccine,” Inslee said in a news conference. “We’ve got to maintain public credibility in the system. I’m told that whatever they were doing has stopped, and that’s good news.”

A spokesperson for Inslee’s office told the AP that the state plans on reallocating vaccine doses to lower-income areas and minorities, an action Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan (D) has also supported.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 720,000 vaccines have been administered in Washington state.

Critics globally and domestically have lambasted the inequitable manner in which vaccines have been distributed. State-level data has revealed that although communities of color have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, wealthier, primarily white, communities have had relatively easier access to vaccines.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has threatened to revoke the medical licenses of providers who knowingly give vaccines to people outside of the state’s prioritization protocols. Providers also face a fine of up to $1 million if they are caught.

Tags Andrew Cuomo Coronavirus COVID-19 health inequity Jay Inslee Jenny Durkan Seattle Vaccine Washington

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