Coronavirus

Ashish Jha calls for hospitals to be allowed to give leftover COVID-19 vaccinations to at-risk community members

“We can do a lot better than we are doing now.”

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Dr. Ashish Jha is raising concerns that hospitals are getting “mixed messages” on what should be done with leftover doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

The dean of the Brown University School of Public Health called on states to give clearer guidance to hospitals that would allow the institutions to use leftover doses to vaccinate elderly or high-risk members of the community, rather than letting others cut the line.

Hospitals have been “rightly prioritized” for receiving shipments of the vaccine because of their front line workers, Jha said, but it has also resulted in some institutions also vaccinating administrators and even donors serving on facility boards. 

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Mass General Brigham is among the hospital systems that has been criticized for its vaccination rollout, with staff saying non-front line workers have been allowed to get shots ahead of essential workers. 

“We need to get shots out,” Jha wrote on Twitter. “Reasonable to vaccinate folks working in hospital lab. But administrators? Donors on boards? Their families? There is a better way. Hospitals should use left-over doses for elderly, at-risk folks in their community.”

Right now, hospitals are getting mixed messages, according to the doctor. While being told to use the doses quickly, which is good, they are being told to not let anyone cut in line and not to give it to non-hospital staff.

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Those requirements come as hospitals are also having leftover doses due to “staff hesitancy,” Jha said. 

“States need to send a clear message,” he wrote. “Get vaccines out. Obviously prioritize front-line workers, but with left-overs, start vaccinating community members at high risk. It doesn’t have to be perfect. But we can do a lot better than we are doing now.”

To illustrate the issue, Jha shared an experience a colleague, who is an ER doctor, ran into with how hospitals are handling leftover doses.  

According to Jha, a team showed up at his colleague’s institution with extra doses of the Moderna vaccine in search of employees who hadn’t received shots yet. But most employees had already received the vaccine, and the remaining staff didn’t want it. 

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Several patients and EMTs were excited and ready to get doses, but the hospital policy wouldn’t allow the leftovers to go to them, Jha said. 

“My friend, ER Doc, incensed, intervened,” he wrote. “He tried to persuade vaccine team but they wouldn’t override hospital policy. He called ER leadership. They wouldn’t override.”

By the time the doctor convinced hospital leadership to alter the policy, the vaccination team had left and discarded the extra doses. 

“Hearing more stories like this,” Jha said. “No idea if these are one-offs or systemic. We aren’t publicly reporting detailed data on [the] state of vaccinations.”

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The doctor said his colleague’s experience underscores the importance of allowing hospitals to use extra doses for vaccinating members of the community and repealing policies that prevent non-employees from getting shots. 

With the 7-day average of deaths in the United States breaking 3,000 daily, Jha said it is imperative that as many lives are protected as possible with the vaccine. 

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