Playing favorites? Hospital boards, donors get COVID shots

(AP)—While millions of Americans wait for the COVID-19 vaccine, hospital board members, their trustees and donors around the country have gotten early access to the scarce drug or offers for vaccinations, raising complaints about favoritism tainting decisions about who gets inoculated and when.

In Rhode Island, Attorney General Peter Neronha opened an inquiry after reports that two hospital systems offered their board members vaccinations. A Seattle-area hospital system was rebuked by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee after it offered COVID-19 vaccination appointments to major donors. And in Kansas, members of a hospital board received vaccinations during the first phase of the state’s rollout, which was intended for people at greater risk for infection.

Hospitals in Florida, New Jersey and Virginia also have faced questions about distributing vaccines, including to donors, trustees and relatives of executives.

The disclosures could threaten public confidence in a national rollout already marked by vaccine shortages, appointment logjams and inconsistent standards state to state for determining who’s eligible.

“We want people vaccinated based on priority, not privilege,” Inslee spokesman Mike Faulk said. “Everyone deserves a fair opportunity to get vaccinated.”

At the direction of the federal government, states have set up tiered distribution pipelines aimed first at protecting essential workers and those most at risk, including older Americans. In California, for example, medical workers, first responders, nursing home residents and people 65 and older are at the front of the line for the coveted shots.

In some cases, it’s not clear if rules were violated when people outside priority groups received vaccinations. Guidelines vary by state, and hospitals can have leeway making decisions. In California, providers have more latitude to make sure they do not squander hard-to-get vaccine in cases where it might be at risk of going to waste.

In Rhode Island, Attorney General Peter Neronha began an inquiry into two hospital systems after The Providence Journal reported this month that some board members of hospital systems Lifespan and Care New England had been offered vaccinations.

In an interview Friday with The Associated Press, Neronha said the report, if true, raised questions about whether the vaccine was being distributed appropriately.