Officials at the Stanford University Medical Center apologized Friday after residents and other health-care staff staged a raucous walkout when frontline workers were bumped to the back of the line for COVID-19 vaccinations.
The first wave of 5,000 vaccinations was to leave out all but seven of the Palo Alto hospital’s residents and fellows, many of whom regularly treat COVID-19 patients.
“First in the room! Back of the line!” protesters shouted. “Health-care hero, support is zero,” read a sign.
They accused the hospital of prioritizing vaccines for senior staff and faculty physicians working from home or in specialties far less likely to interact with patients suffering from COVID-19.
In a letter Thursday to hospital officials, residents complained: “Many of us know senior faculty who have worked from home since the pandemic began in March 2020, with no in-person patient responsibilities, who were selected for vaccination. In the meantime, we residents and fellows strap on N95 masks for the tenth month of this pandemic without a transparent and clear plan for our protection in place.”
Residents are physicians who have finished medical school and staff hospitals during training for a specialty.
“We came out here after we learned that only seven out of 1,349 residents were selected for the first wave of vaccinations,” Dr. Charles Marcus, a protesting third-year resident, explained to NBC News.
“I’m here because we were promised, multiple times, that we would be vaccinated in the first wave,” emergency room resident Dr. Daniel Hernandez told the San Francisco Chronicle.
The protest quieted when President and CEO of Stanford Health David Entwhistle appeared on the scene to announce: “We got it wrong. Let’s get you vaccinated. We’ll correct it.”
The hospital earlier this week had promised to first vaccinate health care workers who “provide direct care and service to patients … are at the highest risk of being exposed to COVID-19 and those who have an elevated risk of complications from the disease.”
But Pro Publica reported that the hospital instead used a faulty algorithm to choose the first 5,000 workers to be vaccinated. The formula failed to include residents not assigned to specific locations in the hospital. That cut out residents who rank lower in the hierarchy, but who usually have the closest contact with patients.
“We take complete responsibility and profusely apologize to all of you,” said an email to staff from hospital officials. “We fully recognize we should have acted more swiftly to address the errors that resulted in an outcome we did not anticipate. We are truly sorry.”
The clash is likely a sign of more confrontations to come at hospitals and elsewhere as people are prioritized for vaccinations across the nation in error or unfairly.