Santa Clara cuts off COVID vaccine supply to hospital that let teachers skip the line
A Bay Area hospital has had its supply of COVID-19 vaccine cut off after offering doses to teachers who were not in the state’s priority group.
Good Samaritan Hospital in Santa Clara County will no longer receive COVID-19 vaccine after county officials learned that the hospital gave teachers from a nearby school district a chance to jump the vaccination line, which prioritizes healthcare workers and people primarily 75 and older.
“We became aware of this email that had gone out basically saying there was this special deal for vaccination,” Santa Clara County Counsel James R. Williams said during a news conference Monday.
The hospital had reached out to the Los Gatos Union School District in “a wonderful gesture by our Good Sam neighbors,” according to a staff email sent by schools Supt. Paul Johnson that was obtained by the San Jose Spotlight, which first reported the story.
Johnson said he received the email from Good Samaritan on Wednesday evening and notified staff the next day.
In the email, Johnson provided district employees with a link to schedule an appointment, adding that hospital officials had cleared school staff to sign up for the vaccine as healthcare workers.
“If there are no available appointments, they are populating the site daily, if not multiple times per day,” Johnson wrote. “Please continue checking back.”
The school district had raised money last year to provide meals for front-line workers at two hospitals, including Good Samaritan.
Concierge doctors are stocking up with ultra-low-temperature freezers and are being inundated with calls from well-heeled clients looking for an edge in getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
The district later clarified in a Facebook post that “Good Samaritan returning a good deed” was a characterization by the superintendent.
The district, which serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade and has about 250 employees, has been conducting remote learning, though it plans a partial reopening starting Feb. 1, pending review of its safety plan, Johnson said.
Williams called Good Samaritan’s actions “very concerning” for several reasons.
The hospital seemed to be “reaching out to a specific district” based on the appearance of “meals provided,” rather than to all school districts, Williams said.
California officials are prioritizing vaccinations for health workers, people who live or work at long-term care facilities and individuals 65 and over. Because of the scarcity of vaccine, Santa Clara County raised the age limit, advising that people over 75 be vaccinated.
The vaccines have been in short supply in California since their mid-December rollout as the state grapples with a holiday-driven surge in coronavirus cases and deaths that have overwhelmed hospitals and filled morgues.
Good Samaritan Hospital said in a release Jan. 12 that it was providing vaccines only to eligible healthcare workers in the county. At the time, Williams said, it had not yet reached out to the priority group of those age 75 and older.
A week later, the hospital appeared to be “affirmatively suggesting” that school district employees commit perjury by “registering themselves as if they were healthcare workers,” Williams said.
At one vaccination clinic, a Times reporter watched as about 100 people were admitted without showing proof that they worked in healthcare.
The hospital said in a statement Saturday that it had mistakenly expanded its vaccination group to Tier 1b, which includes educators and child-care workers, to avoid wasting vaccine doses that had already been thawed.
Williams, however, said the message sent by the school district outlining the hospital’s plan “does not appear to be related to wastage.”
Thawed doses of the Pfizer vaccine can be stored up to five days in the refrigerator; the Moderna vaccine can be stored up to 30 days under the same conditions. However, the Food and Drug Administration recommends that once the seal is punctured, both types be used within six hours.
The county said it will provide Good Samaritan with enough vaccine for people who received the first of the two required doses to complete their vaccination. But the hospital will not receive any more until it provides “sufficient assurances” and a concrete plan to follow state and county guidelines, Marty Fenstersheib, Santa Clara County’s testing and vaccine officer, said in a letter addressed to Good Samaritan Hospital on Friday.
All scheduled teacher appointments have since been canceled, hospital spokeswoman Sarah Sherwood said Tuesday.
Good Samaritan was one of 17 vaccination providers in Santa Clara County. It has administered about 77% of the 3,785 doses it has received to date and about 47% of the second doses received. There are 537 appointments scheduled in the next seven days, according to the county vaccine dashboard.
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