Stanford’s turnaround followed a raucous demonstration by some of those doctors, who demanded to know why other health-care workers — including pathologists and radiologists who do not attend to covid-19 patients — would be vaccinated before they are.
The “residents” — medical school graduates who staff the hospital for several years as they learn specialties such as emergency medicine, critical care and infectious disease — were furious when it became clear that just seven of the more than 1,300 at the medical center were in the first round for vaccinations. Also affected were “fellows,” who work in the hospital as they train further in sub-specialties, nurses and other staff.
The events came immediately after the residents were asked to volunteer for extra work because of the huge surge in covid-19 patients that California is experiencing.
An email to a resident obtained by The Washington Post said that “the Stanford vaccine algorithm failed to prioritize house staff,” as the early year doctors are known collectively. “This should not have happened — we value you and the work you do so highly,” the email stated. “We had been told that residents and fellows would be in the first wave. This should never have happened nor unfolded the way it did.”
One resident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she believed open criticism of Stanford could harm her career, said she appreciated the quick pledge that Stanford would rectify the situation. But she said that “residents and house staff and people who support us were left out of the development of said algorithm, with unacceptable consequences.”
In another email, Niraj L. Sehgal, Stanford’s chief medical officer, said he was “sincerely apologizing for what a difficult day this has been.”
“Please know the perceived lack of priority for residents and fellows was not the intent at all,” he added.
Dozens of physicians gathered on the Palo Alto campus Friday to protest. Carrying signs that read “transparency” and “protect the front line,” the group accused university officials of selecting orthopedists, dermatologists and even some faculty who work from home for the first wave of vaccinations, while leaving out workers who treat patients face-to-face.
“Residents and fellows were essentially not included in the first round of vaccines despite working 80+ hours per week in the hospital treating COVID-19 patients,” tweeted Earth Hasassri, a Stanford fellow.
Video posted by the San Francisco Chronicle showed the facility’s front lobby and staircase packed with physicians in blue medical masks chanting, “Health-care heroes, support is zero!” Shortly after, the demonstration moved outside to the front of the building.
The scene quieted down when David Entwhistle, head of Stanford Health, addressed the crowd, according to the Chronicle. “We’ll correct it,” he said. “We know that it’s wrong.”
A Stanford Health Care spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
The demonstration at Stanford could foreshadow similar disputes nationwide as the federal government and states begin the arduous process of distributing limited supplies of the first vaccines.
“Disparities in distribution of the vaccine can be seen at a micro level at Stanford today,” Christine Santiago, a Stanford resident, said on Twitter. “I worry that the situation we see at stanford is a harbinger of population level inequities of vaccine distribution for our underserved communities.”
Janis M. Orlowski, chief health-care officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges, which oversees medical education in the United States, said the group previously informed large academic medical centers that “they need to consider residents, fellows and medical students involved in direct patient care as essential workers” as they plan distribution of vaccines.
Lateshia Beachum and Hannah Knowles contributed to this report.