Screenshot from Google search.

Non-frontline employees at San Francisco’s Institute on Aging — who work in accounting, marketing, or administration — have either been vaccinated for Covid-19 or offered a vaccination at an all-day inoculation event Wednesday at the nonprofit’s Geary Boulevard headquarters. 

Some 220 workers are slated to be vaccinated on-site on Wednesday, per an office-wide statement made during a Tuesday town hall meeting by Institute on Aging CEO Tom Briody.

The Institute on Aging provides support and services to the elderly and disabled in San Francisco, as well as throughout the Bay Area and elsewhere. But it also employs hundreds of people who do not work directly with clients, who specialize in behind-the-scenes matters such as HR or finance or administration, and are working from home or capable of working from home. 

Calls to the Institute on Aging regarding the vaccinations were referred to its marketing head, Jacqueline Murray. She described the vaccinations as being for “our staff, and we triaged, and our client-facing staff will be first.”  

She later sent a statement: 

Institute on Aging (IOA), as an organization that serves seniors and adults living with disabilities, was identified by San Francisco Department of Public Health as a prioritized agency for vaccination. Due to Federal Privacy laws/HIPAA we cannot identify who is being vaccinated, or when as that is considered Protected Health Information.

It is not clear if privacy laws prevent revealing the occupations of anonymous workers.

Regardless, in addition to the Institute on Aging’s client-facing workers, a number of non-frontline employees, including some barely into their 30s, either were vaccinated on-site on Jan. 15 or are slated to be on Wednesday. Mission Local obtained vaccination invitations to a marketing professional, several directors, and administrative staff. Multiple sources also say that accounting staff have been vaccinated.

Mission Local has additionally obtained a Jan. 22 document stating that the Institute on Aging had obtained “vaccines for all staff.” 

This is not a unique incident; “vaccine selfies” abound of academics who do not seem to meet the eligibility requirements. Locally, Stanford Hospital inoculated ineligible, nonclinical staff before its frontline workers, sparking a protest. 

Regarding the inoculation of young, non-frontline staff, “If the vaccine would’ve gone to waste, then this is ethical. But if that’s not the case, then, no, they should be using the vaccine for people at highest risk,” said Dr. John Swartzberg, a clinical professor emeritus at UC Berkeley and UCSF specializing in infectious diseases 

Added Arthur Caplan, a medical ethicist at New York University, this does not appear to be ethical: “Some of those [vaccine recipients] are not high-risk. But, that said, many healthcare groups have been vaccinating their whole workforces as healthcare employees. The state has not given proper guidance.”

“I prefer using vaccine and not wasting it. But you have found another example of planning and prioritization failing when needy persons go without.”

The Department of Public Health has not yet returned our message. It is not clear what its higher-ups think about the Institute on Aging’s vaccination plan.

This comes at a time when the shaky rollout of vaccines in San Francisco and California is an increasing cause for consternation, and resources have been rationed to residents 65 and older and frontline workers.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday in fact announced the removal of frontline workers from prioritization in an increased focus on the elderly. 

For Institute on Aging workers — who are neither frontline workers nor elderly — to be receiving vaccinations struck some employees as indefensible. 

“I and others, who are young and fully able to work from home were offered the opportunity to leapfrog over people who need the vaccines the most,” said one worker. 

Mission Local has received reports of Institute on Aging employees who are much younger than 65, and who work from their homes, driving from far outside the county to receive the vaccination.

This comes after months of what employees described as cavalier behavior regarding pandemic protocol. Some employees said there was pressure to work on-site. Briody offered free lunches to on-site workers on Thursdays — an offer that purportedly led to the undesirable situation of employees who were able to work from home instead heading into the office for free food. 

The Institute on Aging additionally held an in-person executive team meeting in June at the InterContinental, as well as a socially distanced indoor party for its “People Team,” depicted in photo in the Institute’s November newsletter. 

Briody, meanwhile, surprised some colleagues by noting in a MarketWatch article that he flies to see his elderly parents in Buffalo every six weeks, and “does not get tested for every cross-country visit or quarantine upon arrival.

Institute on Aging employees were last month informed that management had wrangled 108 vaccine doses in partnership with OnLok and Chinese Hospital, with the intention of inoculating home-care workers, and workers with the “Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly”  (PACE). 

That’s exactly who you’d think would receive the first round of vaccinations. But Mission Local has received multiple reports of non-frontline workers being inoculated as well on Jan. 15 — in addition to written evidence indicating that more are slated for Jan. 27 appointments. 

This does not sit well with every employee. 

“When I and others who were not qualified were offered the vaccine, I was stunned,” says one. “These should be going to the people that we serve.”  

SUPPORT MISSION LOCAL

Joe Eskenazi

Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. “Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior...

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26 Comments

  1. I don’t think we should waste any doses. however, I wonder if SF really has 80K healthcare workers as the city claims or the city just thinks it’s too complicated to figure who is patient facing healthcare workers.

  2. Joe, Do you know what, if anything, the Institute on Aging has been doing to inform older San Franciscans about how they can get the vaccine. I am a senior and I have not been notified by any organization. It has only been because I am online that I’ve had the privilege of first applying to be “eligible” and then spending days and days 24/7 trying various sites to get a vaccine appointment. Really would like to know what organizations that are supposed to serve the aging have done to help get seniors at home vaccines.

  3. We just need to get people vaccinated. Getting embroiled in priority battles doesn’t further that goal well at all.

    1. California is dead last in the US in doses administered per capita and this unnecessary finger pointing over priority is one of the reasons why

  4. I believe this is a problem which should be investigated by the appropriate state or federal authorities to make sure this ‘mass” vaccination does not happen again. Positively handled with transparency would help us all!

  5. Wow. This is truly unfair. I know many essential workers who are front line facing who should be vaccinated before people who work from home. Institute of the Age you should be ashamed of yourself. California, you should be ashamed of the poor vaccine roll out plans, the change from essential workers to age priority is a slap in the face to everyone who has put their life on the line for almost a year now.

  6. @Brain, we are not trying to embroiled in priority, but incidences like this is exactly why sf seniors can’t get vaccinated. They are taking advantage of the situation while sf seniors are waiting for hours on the phone to get appointments. Right now the appointments are already backed up to end of feb beginning of march. We are only talking about those >75. The sooner seniors can get vaccinated, the sooner the city can move to the next phase.

  7. If we are all trying to do the right thing and go in order, then we should all go in order. If DPH gave them doses for non front line medical workers shame on them. I don’t think a bookkeeper needs a vaccine now when people over 75 are still not getting vaccines.

  8. It’s pretty messed up that we’re fighting over who should be getting the vaccines this late into the process. People that were supposed to get them in this situation had no idea until they actually got there that they were no longer getting vaccinated, who knows if the doses will even be able to get used now. Of course frontline workers should be the priority, but the criticism should not actively hinder the vaccination process as it has here. It’s incredibly wrong in my mind that people have taken away doses put aside for and promised to people, rather than ensure future doses will go to the individuals that need it most. Just because a solution is not perfect does not mean we should go nuclear and completely take it away from people who will need to get vaccinated at some point anyway. I hope all that are responsible are proud of themselves.

  9. While prioritizing the elderly should be our first priority, COVID vaccines only last 5-30 days once thawed. Since directions for where these vaccines go could take a while to enter another system, they will most likely be held in the system long enough to expire and rendered ineffective. This is a waste that will take longer for everyone to be administered a vaccine in the long run and may result in more deaths. A better system would allow vaccines to be administered and fix its priority for the next batch of vaccines rather than let everyone suffer.

    1. This is not a situation where IoA had leftover doses. I have heard plenty of “abuse” from hospitals or healthcare providers including giving doses to donors, part time accountants who work remotely and favorite patients. It almost seems you really have to have some kind backdoor connection with someone high up at the hospital to get vaccinated.

      1. What I think they meant is that now that the vaccines are opened, if the HD cannot decide who receives the remaining doses quickly enough, over time their effectiveness will decline until rendered ineffective. By leftovers, they are referring to the remaining vaccines that were supposed to be used today (some started on Jan 15th according to the article.)

        1. no where in the article said those doses were already open and had to be used on 1/15. Here is the quote” Regardless, in addition to the Institute on Aging’s client-facing workers, a number of non-frontline employees, including some barely into their 30s, either were vaccinated on-site on Jan. 15 or are slated to be on Wednesday. Mission Local obtained vaccination invitations to a marketing professional, several directors, and administrative staff. Multiple sources also say that accounting staff have been vaccinated.”
          To me this sounds like vaccination invites were sent before 1/15.

  10. This article states that IoA works with elderly and disabled senior citizens, how can we be sure the vaccinations were to be given to office staff, such as HR, accounting, and marketing? Is there any evidence or basis for this or is it just speculation? If so, the proper protocol when pursuing journalism should be to highlight that such accusations are that: alleged allegations. From what I can tell, it seems more likely that IoA prioritized giving their vaccines to those who work in counseling or advising senior citizens; even if they aren’t frontline, the work they do is essential for mental health, especially during COVID times. Ensuring these healthcare workers receive a vaccine means that in-person counseling, which has more benefits than talking over the phone or text, can resume quickly. They may not be frontline, but they are still essential. Irregardless, if the vaccines have already been opened and some administered, that is evidence enough that the HD already allocated and budgeted them. In the end everyone should be getting a vaccine and to stop an operation half-way through slows down the process.

    1. Sir or madam — 

      You seem to have failed to adequately read the article.

      I have obtained written proof of people in HR, accounting, marketing, etc. either receiving a vaccination or being invited to receive one.

      I have no doubt that people who work from home or remotely and never come face-to-face with the elderly are doing good and important work, but that’s not how vaccination priorities are crafted. You are stretching semantic credulity by calling HR, accounting, or marketing people “healthcare workers.”

      Best,

      JE

  11. Wow. I’m going to have to think about ‘un-following’ this news outlet. First a scathing write up about Willie Brown. Now whining about somebody(ies) getting vaccinated ‘out of line’. I think we should get people vaccinated as quickly as possibly . . . and not sweat the small stuff!

    1. It isn’t small stuff if an elderly person dies because the vaccine was given to someone younger who is not at the same risk. And, concerning Slick Willie Brown, he is connected to everyone who has been indicted by the FBI, and soon he is going to be indicted too. Are you a trumper, Laura? Or do you simply identify with those who don’t play by the rules?

    2. This isn’t small stuff! Where have you been! People at risk cannot get these vaccinations. If YOUR family member who was at risk died from Covid you might think differently!

  12. Reading this article, I can follow the anger of those who want to understand why support personnel would get a vaccine before seniors. I wanted to know how this was possible… So I looked at San Francisco’s Department of Public Health for guidance.

    During Phase 1a of allocation, COVID-19 vaccine should be offered to the following persons in California:

    o Persons at risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 through their work in ANY ROLE in direct health care or long-term care settings (IOA provides direct healthcare).
    o This population includes persons at direct risk of exposure in their non-clinical roles, such as, but not limited to, environmental services, patient transport, or interpretation.

    Why would this news outlet create a news story about an organization following SF DPH guidance? It seems like this would have been better served to question the tiering guidance versus targeting a non-profit that seems to want to protect their staff when given the opportunity.

  13. This is obviously just another attempt at sensational journalism at everyone else’s expense. This guy needs to head back to journalism school and learn to report the whole story.

    1. Hi there.

      I never went to journalism school. But I do occasionally lecture at them.

      I’ll convey your thoughts to the students the next time I do so.

      Best,

      JE

    2. No, IOA is another example of greed and lack of compassion for the people who need the vaccines more than others right now. Great article Joe! This disgusts me.

  14. Joe, thank you for bringing selfish incidents like this into light. This is exactly what many thought would happen. People who want to use this as a way to give the vaccines to the wealthy, friends, family, favorite employees, and donors before the elderly, at risk individuals, and first responders. Why in the world would IOA not give these to the elderly at risk public they serve before giving it to healthy young employees that will absolutely not be first responders… HR?? Really?

  15. Not a popular opinion but the slipshod way vaccinations are being done pretty much means it’s everyone for themselves. I’m 50 but am taking care of my 80 year old father. I took him to get vaccinated at a drive through and they assumed I was there for vaccine, too, so I showed my Driver’s License and they barely looked at it and gave me a shot despite not being on any list or even signed up. It was towards the end of the day and I’m guessing the staff were overworked and tired. Should I feel guilty? Probably. Do I? Not really. Following the rules in the Bay Area is a sucker’s game. There’s really no penalty for anything anymore short of murder.

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