As local health officials ramp up efforts to bring the COVID-19 vaccine to more residents of the Rappahannock Area Health District, some people have questioned why members of a hospital board were vaccinated at the same time as workers who provide direct care to patients.
Specifically, several readers wondered why members of the Mary Washington Hospital Foundation Board of Trustees had been vaccinated. The readers said several trustees had put posts on Facebook, which were later taken down, announcing they’d gotten their shots.
Marketing officials usually field questions from the media, but Eric Fletcher, senior vice president of Mary Washington Healthcare, responded to The Free Lance-Star.
“Our board members are volunteers and so they have been invited, and some of them have been vaccinated, as volunteers of the health system,” he said.
The first round of vaccines was designated for hospital frontline workers—those who are closest to the sickest. Hospitals started vaccinating their staffs in mid-December, and many chose to vaccine “non-health system staff as well,” according to the Virginia Department of Health. Its website details the various tiers in the phased-in approach, as well as various questions about the vaccines at vdh.virginia.gov/covid-19-vaccine/.
When the rollout moved to tier 1a, which includes all health care workers, such as dentists and doctors in medical offices, Fletcher said its volunteers—including the businessmen and businesswomen who serve as foundation trustees—were included.
The vaccine is in short supply so who is getting vaccinated has been under heavy scrutiny since the rollout started last month. A story in Sunday’s New York Times cited some of the young researchers, lab techs and computer specialists, as well as administrators, at elite research hospitals who have been vaccinated ahead of millions of frontline workers and older Americans.
Fletcher focused on the broader picture, saying that “exciting times are right around the corner.” He said MWHC has vaccinated almost 4,000 people and is gearing up to offer the vaccines to more members of the community, starting next week. The goal is to give shots to as many as 1,000 people a day who are in tier 1b, which includes people age 75 and over, as well as certain essential workers such as teachers, postal employees and grocery store workers.
More information about how to register for the MWHC clinics will be announced later this week.
Likewise, health district officials are gearing up to expand their clinics, which currently are held at the Fredericksburg Conference and Expo Center and are open by appointment only. Starting in the next few weeks, they plan to bring vaccination clinics to each locality in the district, which includes Fredericksburg and the counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford.
Officials with the RAHD and hospital system have stressed that they thaw out only enough doses for those whose vaccinations are scheduled in a given day. Jenn Shiflett, the district’s branch director of contact tracing and case management, said clinic workers are “meticulous” about inventory and scheduling so they “do not waste any doses.”
Dr. Christopher Newman, chief medical officer of Mary Washington Healthcare, said the same during a virtual town hall last week. Each vaccine manufacturer includes eight to 10 doses in a vial, and once the doses are thawed and diluted, they have to be used “in a time- sensitive fashion,” Newman said.
“We are not shooting any vaccine into a garbage can,” he said, alluding to national reports about the vaccine going bad because it sat out too long.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425