One of Pennsylvania’s largest health networks gave special access for coronavirus vaccines to employees' relatives, prompting criticism from health officials who said that other groups should have been prioritized.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Geisinger, a regional health care provider in parts of Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey, said it held employee vaccination clinics on three consecutive Sundays in late January and early February, at which each person was allowed to bring two family members deemed eligible under the state’s vaccine rollout plan.
Geisinger, which has about 24,000 employees, told the AP that approximately 3,600 relatives were vaccinated as part of the campaign.
It is unclear if members of the public were denied appointments due to doses that were given to employees’ relatives.
Matthew Van Stone, a Geisinger spokesperson, told the AP “the situation in mid-January was very different than where we stand today,” adding that the health company believed they had a sufficient number of vaccine doses and that “opening up Sundays to employees and up to two Phase 1A-eligible family members would make it easier for the community to find appointments throughout the week.”
However, the Pennsylvania Department of Health on Wednesday said the health care network should not have held the clinic for employee relatives, adding that it was unaware that these arrangements were set up before being alerted by the AP.
“DOH has been in contact with the provider to ensure that going forward they follow the agreement they signed, or risk losing access to first doses of COVID-19 vaccine,” Health Department spokesperson Maggi Barton told the AP.
According to the state health agency’s website, Pennsylvania remains in Phase 1A of its vaccine distribution plan, which includes emergency first responders, health professionals, residents ages 65 and older and people from ages 16-64 with high-risk medical conditions.
The AP’s report came the same day NPR reported that San Francisco-based health care provider One Medical had given scarce coronavirus vaccinations to individuals considered ineligible by local health departments.
NPR reported, based on internal communications obtained by the news outlet, that thousands of individuals with ties to company leaders and customers of its concierge medical service were set up with vaccine appointments across numerous company locations in several states.
One Medical pushed back against the story, telling NPR that it "does not allow for ineligible persons to be vaccinated knowingly” and that it had fired several staff members for allegedly ignoring eligibility requirements.
The health care provider’s chief medical officer, Andrew Diamond, told the news outlet, "We are doing absolutely everything in our power to vaccinate as many eligible people as possible.”