CLEVELAND — While patients across Ohio wait for COVID vaccines, News 5 has learned that hospital staff that mainly work remotely and often don’t interact with patients are getting vaccinated even though they do not have medical conditions that make them high-risk and are younger than 65 years of age.
“It’s important to note that under state guidelines all healthcare workers fall into the first phase,” said a Cleveland Clinic spokesperson through email. “This is not a Cleveland Clinic process, rather a guideline that was provided by the State.”
News 5 found University Hospitals has been following a similar process, prioritizing employees into three tiers based on their level of interaction with patients. Even employees in the last tier, with no or almost no interaction to patients, would still be able to get vaccinated before.
The MetroHealth System tells News 5 in an email: "“The MetroHealth System offered the vaccine to the entirety of our workforce. A healthy workforce is required to serve patients, which includes not just those who directly treat patients, but also those who come in contact with them, such as workers who clean the rooms and police officers, as well as those vital for the continuity of business operations."
Ohio’s Phase 1A population, which is the group getting vaccinated until Monday, does not include the general public, only front line workers, hospital employees, and long-term care facility residents and staff.
Phase 1B will open vaccines up to Ohioans over the age of 80 and to other patients with medical conditions making them high-risk for the coronavirus.
ODH has also sent out guidance to providers to help prevent vaccine wastage in the event that they have excess vaccine upon completion of a vaccination clinic and those vaccines are set to expire. It is critically important that providers have a plan in place to immediately identify and administer vaccine to backup recipients. Many providers have implemented waiting lists of eligible individuals for such circumstances.
If there is extra vaccine, facilities should identify those in 1A or 1B. If none of those individuals are available due to time constraints or lack of availability of priority individuals, facilities may administer vaccine to any individuals eligible under the appropriate FDA Emergency Use Authorization (EUA).
A spokesperson for Governor Mike DeWine tells News 5 the state left it up to hospitals to determine which employees to vaccinate with the main focus on making sure no doses were wasted.
“At the beginning of this pandemic, PPE was definitely our scarce resource,” said Cleveland Medical Center at University Hospitals COO Dr. Robyn Strosaker. “Now, we have plenty of PPE. The scarce resource is people.”
That’s why she says University Hospitals has been vaccinating as many UH employees as it can, even the ones that normally don’t interact with patients.
“Remember, that accountant at home is probably not just an accountant at home right now,” said Dr. Strosaker.
She says COVID has pushed some of those staff members into new roles where they may come into contact with the public. Hospitals say their goal is to vaccinate as many of its employees as they can, regardless of age or risk factors.
“I understand the prioritization,” said Dr. Strosaker. “I also understand there’s no one right answer here.”
Wednesday, the Cleveland Clinic sent out an email to all of its patients asking them to be patient and that vaccine sign ups could start in the coming weeks.
Cleveland Clinic email to patients
I’m glad that so many of you are eager to get these safe and effective vaccines. We’re confident that everyone in our communities who wants to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and is eligible (no vaccines have yet been authorized for children under age 16) will be able to. However, it’s important to understand that this could take several months.
Right now, the number of vaccines available is very limited. We’re working with the states of Ohio and Florida to get more doses as soon as possible. We’re also prioritizing the doses we’ve already received based on guidance from the CDC and state authorities.
Although the process might seem to be moving slowly, every person who gets vaccinated is a step in the right direction.
“Our best response is to get as efficient at this as we can because we know the quicker we can vaccinate people, the quicker we can get to others that are not as far ahead in the line as they’d like to be,” said Dr. Strosaker.
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