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URMC apologizes after letter suggests donors could get priority in vaccine line

Last week exclusive reporting by WXXI uncovered a vaccine priority exemption email, which was being distributed by University of Rochester Medical Center officials for donors.

The email alleged that donors could potentially receive the vaccine sooner than others. URMC operates several hospitals in the Finger Lakes region – including Thompson Hospital in Canandaigua.

Finger Lakes Partners (Billboard)

URMC apologized on Monday releasing a lengthy statement:

“In recent days, many of us saw a news story that raised questions about the integrity and equity of URMC’s COVID-19 vaccination program.

The story quoted excerpts from an internal email sent January 12. It indicated that certain people connected to the University, including donors, would be vaccinated ahead of others at a special clinic.

We want to assure every member of our community that there was no special clinic. We are certain that only eligible people have been vaccinated through our program.

However, we also must acknowledge and apologize for a troubling fact. It relates to clinics scheduled on January 14 and 15, intended for the vaccination of employees.

The registration information was shared with 26 non-employees who were well-connected to the University, including URMC board members and donors. These 26 people were all eligible to receive vaccine, but they should not have received preferential treatment by being invited to the clinic.

We know that many of you are disappointed by this information, and rightly so. The notion of privileging some people over others to receive a potentially lifesaving vaccine runs counter to our values. It undermines the hard work we are doing to support the health of everyone in our community during this pandemic.

We are all living with the confusion and anxiety COVID-19 has created, including challenges associated with the availability and distribution of the vaccine. We understand that this recent incident may have exacerbated this anxiety. We apologize not only for the incident itself, but also for the frustration it has caused. And we want to assure you that as soon as URMC leadership became aware of this issue, they took immediate steps to ensure that these mistakes are never repeated.”

A statement from state Department of Health officials to indicated that they looked into the matter. “From the beginning, New York has made it clear that all providers distributing the vaccine must do so fairly and equitably to ensure all eligible New Yorkers have access. The matter at URMC is under investigation. Based on preliminary findings it appears at this time that no vaccine doses were administered to anyone who was ineligible. URMC is retraining its staff on all applicable guidelines and protocols and the individual who sent that email has already been counseled,” DOH said.

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