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.
The scene in Palo Alto, which began indoors and then spilled out to the plaza in front of the facility, was quite loud with protesters carrying signs that said, “Front line workers need protection” and “Health care heroes, back of the line.”
“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 marching in the protest. “They are making us volunteer in the COVID ICU, without extra pay on top of covering our own work.”
The crowd quieted down only when hospital leadership members stepped up to address them. President and CEO of Stanford Health David Entwhistle told the crowd, “We’ll correct it. We know that it’s wrong.”
The protesters had sent a letter to top Stanford officials arguing that only seven residents and fellows were included in the first round vaccinations, with 5,000 injections set to begin Friday. Protesters on site told The Chronicle that among those receiving vaccines were orthopedic surgeons, nurses treating outpatients and a dermatologist.
“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 also said that 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.”
The protesters allege that Stanford leadership pointed to an error in an algorithm meant to ensure equitable distribution of the vaccine aimed at older health care workers and employees, but that the error came to light Tuesday and officials decided not to revise the allocation.
— Nanette Asimov (@NanetteAsimov) December 18, 2020
“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,” Dr. Earth Hasassari, a psychiatric doctor, said in a Twitter post, joining a chorus of health care workers voicing similar complaints. Christine Santiago, an internal medicine resident, said, “Disparities in distribution of the vaccine can be seen at a micro-level at Stanford today. I worry that the situation we see at Stanford is a harbinger of population-level inequities of vaccine distribution for our underserved communities.”
At the protest, another member of Stanford management, Dr. Larry Katznelson, told the crowd, “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 at Stanford, said, “I think it’s a wonderful sentiment. But it causes us to lose trust. I’m cautiously optimistic.”
Stanford Health Care spokeswoman Lisa Kim told The Chronicle, “Our intent was to roll out an ethical and equitable plan for the entire organization, and there were flaws in that plan that we are actively working to repair. We should have more information later today.”
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
Chronicle staff writer Aidin Vaziri contributed to this report.