Protests erupted Friday at Stanford University Medical Center Hospital in California, where frontline medical residents and fellows staged a walkout in frustration over the hospital's botched Covid-19 vaccine distribution.
"First in the room! Back of the line!" they shouted, according to a video posted to Twitter.
Demonstrators accused the medical center of prioritizing more senior doctors and other medical workers who don't directly interface with patients over employees at the highest risk of contracting Covid-19 from patients.
"We came out here after we learned that only seven out of 1,349 residents were selected for the first wave of vaccinations," Charles Marcus, a third-year resident, told NBC Bay Area.
Stanford outlined its vaccine rollout plan earlier this week, saying vaccines would be available starting Friday and would be given first to health care workers who "provide direct care and service to patients, those who are at the highest risk of being exposed to COVID-19 and those who have an elevated risk of complications from the disease."
That did not happen, demonstrators said. Instead, an algorithm was used to select 5,000 workers who would be first in line, according to an investigation published by ProPublica. The algorithm failed to include residents who did not have an assigned "location" within the hospital to add to the calculation.
As a result, residents, who are considered the lowest-ranking doctors but who work very closely with patients, were left out of the first round of vaccines.
In a letter to their colleagues, Stanford medical executives said they are "truly sorry" for the vaccine distribution plan and are working to develop a revised version.
"We take complete responsibility and profusely apologize to all of you. We fully recognize we should have acted more swiftly to address the errors that resulted in an outcome we did not anticipate. We are truly sorry," they said in the letter signed by the presidents and CEOs of Stanford Health Care and Stanford Children's Health, plus the dean and chief medical officers of the medical school.
"We recognize the disappointment and distress this has caused, and we appreciate those who brought these concerns to us," they said in the letter. "We deeply value each and every member of our community and the outsized contributions you make to our mission every day - especially during this particularly challenging year."
A similar incident occurred at a Los Angeles-area hospital where a marketing executive and his wife, who do not meet the county's guidelines for vaccine prioritization, received doses this week. Los Angeles County public health officials said they are investigating.
Friday's demonstrations at Stanford closed out a painful week for California, which is quickly becoming the center of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.
Gov. Gavin Newsom activated a "mass fatality" program this week in response to the state's staggering number of Covid-19 cases and shortages of beds in intensive care units. It included ordering 5,000 body bags and dozens of refrigerated trucks to help overwhelmed hospitals and morgues.
"There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we're still in the tunnel," he said at a news conference Tuesday, referring to the vaccine rollout. "And that means we're going through perhaps the most intense and urgent moment since the beginning of this pandemic."
On Thursday, public health officials announced a record 379 deaths. In the past five days, there have been more than 1,000 deaths and over just two days this week, more than 100,000 newly confirmed cases, The Associated Press reported.
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Regional stay-at-home orders are in effect for the counties hardest hit by the pandemic, including San Joaquin Valley, all of Southern California and the greater Sacramento and Bay areas.
Both Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley have reported a 0 percent ICU capacity. Across the state, there are just 1,234 ICU beds available, according to the latest numbers released by public health officials.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat this: We are getting crushed,” Dr. Brad Spellberg, chief medical officer at Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center, told reporters on Friday. “L.A. County is now moving towards becoming the epicenter of the pandemic."
On Friday, California reported more than 41,000 new cases. The state has recorded more than 1.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, more than any other state in the nation, according to NBC News counts.