More than 100 Stanford Medical Center doctors held a raucous protest Friday, accusing the university of prioritizing the wrong health care workers to receive coronavirus vaccines ahead of residents and fellows who work directly with COVID-19 patients.
“Health care heroes? Back of the line!” chanted the doctors in Palo Alto as they spilled out from the hospital into the plaza in front of the facility. They hoisted signs: “Front line workers need protection” and “Residents can die, too.”
“I’m here because we were promised, multiple times, that we would be vaccinated in the first wave, “ said Dr. Daniel Hernandez, an emergency room resident who joined the protest.
He said the leadership repeatedly asks residents to volunteer in the COVID intensive care unit on top of their own work, and that the doctors are incensed about being neglected now that the vaccine is available.
The angry crowd quieted down only when hospital leaders stepped up to address them.
“We got it wrong. Let’s get you vaccinated,” President and CEO of Stanford Health David Entwhistle told the crowd. “We’ll correct it.”
The protesters had sent a letter to top Stanford officials arguing that only seven residents and fellows were included in the first round of vaccinations Friday, which Entwhistle said began with 3,900 doses. Protesters on site told The Chronicle that among those receiving vaccines were orthopedic surgeons, nurses treating outpatients and a dermatologist.
Residents are doctors who have finished medical school but must still complete three to seven years of training for a license in their specialty. Fellows have completed residency and are pursuing additional training in a particular medical field.
— Nanette Asimov (@NanetteAsimov) December 18, 2020
“There is still no articulated plan to vaccinate the remaining 1,300+ residents and fellows, including those on the front line directly treating COVID-19 patients,” the letter said. “It is important for us to articulate to you that at this time, residents are hurt, disappointed, frustrated, angry, and feel a deep sense of distrust towards the hospital administration given the sacrifices we have been making and the promises that were made to us.”
The letter said many residents know senior faculty who have worked from home since the beginning of the pandemic, “with no in-person patient responsibilities, who were selected for vaccination.”
On Friday, many of the protesters said they had heard from frontline residents and fellows at hospitals around the country, including UCSF, that they had already been vaccinated or were about to be.
Entwhistle explained that Stanford’s vaccine distribution algorithm followed the federal government’s guidance prioritizing health care workers and older employees.
But the protesters accused hospital leaders of ignoring an apparent error in the algorithm — which allowed employees not working directly with patients to be vaccinated first — and that the leadership knew about it as early as Tuesday.
“I did not know about it Tuesday. I learned about it yesterday,” Dr. Larry Katznelson, a neurosurgery professor who holds top positions at Stanford Medical School, told the crowd.
He assured them: “The leadership and department heads are stepping back and making sure that none of us get vaccinated until you get vaccinated.”
Dr. Emma Squire, a pediatric resident, called that “a wonderful sentiment.” But prioritizing employees who don’t work directly with COVID patients “causes us to lose trust,” she said.
After hearing the leaders’ apologies and promises that residents and fellows could be vaccinated this weekend, Squire said: “I’m cautiously optimistic.”
A few hours after the protest ended, Stanford employees and news outlets received a note from Entwistle, Stanford Children’s Health President Paul King, and School of Medicine Dean, Dr. Lloyd Minor.
“We take complete responsibility and profusely apologize to all of you,” the letter said, acknowledging the ”significant concerns expressed by our community” about the vaccine distribution plan.
The leaders said they are working on a revised distribution plan and this time, they said, they will keep everyone informed.
Chronicle staff writers Aidin Vaziri and Catherine Ho contributed to this report.