Hospitals questioned for including board members in 1st rounds of COVID-19 vaccines

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In some instances, hospital board members and trustees have received the COVID-19 vaccine alongside front-line workers, raising questions about whether some systems are following guidelines for distribution.

While guidelines do vary by state, the CDC recommends that high-risk healthcare workers and first responders be the first to get the vaccine. The federal government changed its national vaccine distribution strategy Jan. 12, expanding eligibility to everyone 65 years old and above, as well people under age 65 with a comorbidity. 

Given these guidelines, some hospitals have faced questions over why board members who appear to not fit the guidelines have been offered the COVID-19 vaccine. The Free Lance-Star considered the issue after readers saw trustees of the Fredericksburg, Va.-based Mary Washington Hospital Foundation post photos on Facebook picturing them receiving the vaccine. The posts were later removed, the newspaper said in a Jan. 12 report.

Eric Fletcher, senior vice president of Mary Washington Healthcare, told The Free Lance-Star that "Our board members are volunteers, and so they have been invited, and some of them have been vaccinated, as volunteers of the health system." 

The Virginia Department of Health told the publication many hospitals have chosen to vaccinate their "nonhealth system staff as well" when vaccines starting in mid-December. 

Middletown, N.Y.-based Garnet Health also offered its board members the COVID-19 vaccine, which prompted a state probe, according to a Jan. 13 report in the Times Herald-Record. A spokesperson from Garnet confirmed with the newspaper that the system made the vaccine available to its 16 board of directors and the 25-member board of its health foundation. 

"Board members are volunteers and were offered vaccinations the same as all volunteers who work at Garnet Health as part of the low-risk worker group at hospitals which is approved by the Department of Health," hospital spokesperson Rob Lee told the Times Herald-Record. "We were authorized to vaccinate high-, medium- and low-risk groups in our health system and to get vaccines in arms and that's exactly what we did," he added. 

Some of the board members vaccinated were clinicians.

Officials from the New York State Department of Health disputed notions that board members were eligible for the vaccine because of their volunteer status, according to the report. 

A spokesperson from the department told the Times Herald-Record, "We are actively investigating this situation and will take whatever action is warranted."

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