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Vaccine Task Force co-chair says suggestion donors could jump vaccine line is ‘slap in the face'

Common Ground Health

The co-chair of the Finger Lakes COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force is responding to an email that the University of Rochester Medical Center’s chief fundraiser sent to staff indicating special consideration could be given to “major donors” seeking vaccines.Wade Norwood sent a statement to WXXI News on Saturday. He acknowledged that while URMC said the email was sent in error, his role is to ensure the vaccine is distributed equitably and transparently. He described the suggestion that individuals would be allowed to jump the queue as a “slap in the face” to people who are eligible and who have not yet received inoculations.

WXXI reportedthe story on Friday.

Norwood is the CEO of Common Ground Health. His full statement is as follows:

This week WXXI and other news outlets reported that an internal email sent by University of Rochester fundraising staff on January 12 mistakenly indicated that “major donors” to the hospital system would be given special access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

As the convener of the Finger Lakes COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force, Common Ground Health has been charged with ensuring that our region’s vaccine distribution process is as equitable and transparent as possible. With such short supply of the vaccine in our region and an extremely high community spread, we know that quickly getting the vaccine in arms is a matter of life and death for many of our most vulnerable neighbors.

Although the University of Rochester email was sent in error and a special clinic was not created for donors or other groups, we take real or perceived preferential treatment very seriously. Such actions undermine trust and fuel concerns about institutional integrity. Preventing such abuse of the public’s trust is essential to maintaining confidence in the vaccine process in our region.

As co-chair of the vaccine task force, I want to be crystal clear. We are adamantly opposed to any suggestion that individuals should be allow to advance to the front of the line based on donor status or any other criteria not established by New York State’s risk assessment. To suggest otherwise is contrary to all that I stand for and is a slap in the face to residents who are eligible for vaccination, but because of the current supply shortage, are patiently waiting their turn or spending hours at a time trying to schedule an appointment.

As we continue to face restricted vaccine supply, fair and equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine is more important than ever. Ultimately, the solution will be to have enough vaccine to meet demand and to achieve herd immunity.  I am hopeful that the Biden administration’s efforts to increase supply will eventually eliminate incentives to game the system here and across the country. In the meantime, we will continue to do everything in our power to ensure that high-risk populations are offered the vaccine lifeline first.

Megan Mack is the executive producer of "Connections with Evan Dawson" and live/televised engagement programming.