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.”