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VCU Health responds to why some non-frontline workers are receiving COVID-19 vaccine

Posted at 4:57 PM, Dec 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-31 18:23:29-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- After a few WTVR CBS 6 viewers reached out asking why some employees at VCU Health System who are not frontline workers in daily direct contact with COVID-19 patients received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, we investigated who is currently eligible to receive the vaccine, and found out they do qualify.

As we have reported, frontline healthcare workers, like doctors, nurses and EMTs, and residents and staff at long-term care facilities, are receiving the COVID-19 vaccine first. But we found out there are others, in administrative positions, who qualify, too.

Virginia developed its own vaccine prioritization guidelines based on the CDCs recommendations, and within phase 1a, people who are "critical to the ongoing operations of health system facilities" or "whose duties may require access to clinical setting at health care facilities" are prioritized for the vaccine.

These employees are to receive their vaccine after the frontline workers who come in direct contact with COVID-19 patients, but before essential workers and high risk adults, who are in the phase 1b and 1c groups.

RELATED: Nurses split on COVID-19 vaccine: 'It may make me change my career'

"Healthcare leaders, even if they work on the administrative side of things, it's important to model behavior and to show other staff hey we're invested in this we believe in this vaccine," Julian Walker with the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association said. "So we are not just going to talk to the talk, but walk the walk by getting the vaccine ourselves."

During a phone press conference on Wednesday, Christy Gray, who heads up the Division of Immuniziation at the Virginia Department of Health, said that if, for example, a frontline worker declines the vaccine, and that dose has already been dethawed and needs to be used within a certain amount of time, the health care facility can give the vaccine to a non-frontline worker.

"We would not expect our vaccinators to be scheduling people to get vaccinated that are less high priority than others, if they happen to be in the office and that vaccine is going to get wasted we would rather that person get vaccinated than the vaccine be wasted," Gray said.

We did ask VCU Health why some of their staff who are not frontline health care workers received the vaccine.

Laura Rossacher, the head of Public Affairs at VCU Health, said they are following VDH guidelines, and VCU Health prioritized high-risk team members who regularly have contact with COVID-19 patients, but "over time, and according to their vaccination plan, additional team members are eligible to sign up and receive the COVID-19 vaccine."

COVID-19 Precautions

Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.

COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.

Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.
  • Avoid non-essential travel.