RICHMOND, Va. -- On the first day of 2021, the VCU Health System told medical students they would be pulled out of clinical duties for 60 - 90 days and not prioritized to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Many medical students were upset with that decision.
"I can't imagine trusting a Zoom trained physician," one medical student, who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of retribution from the school, said when they heard the news.
They argued the CDC recommended health care students and trainees get vaccine priority, and they questioned why 15 percent of the VCU Health System employees who have received the vaccine to date do not come face to face with patients.
"From my perspective, it feels like we are not valued in the same way that employees are," the student said.
The student shared a letter penned by a group of VCU Medical Students to Dr. Arthur Kellermann, the CEO of the VCU Health System.
"He explained that because it's a health system, there are people that are deemed essential like IT or payroll who are needed to make sure the system runs," the student said about how they interpreted Kellermann's reasoning.
Snapshots of an email sent to all VCU Health System employees showed that on December 29, the system opened up vaccinations to employees in "tier 9," which includes employees who work from home.
"To me it seems like VCU may not be handling such a precious resource in a way the public deserves," the student said.
A spokesperson for VCU Health said they were aware of the students' concerns and wanted the students to return to a clinical environment for their training as soon as possible.
VCU added it hoped to get sufficient vaccines soon to include students who are on clinical training now, and that safety has been a guiding principle for decisions.
It's not just medical students at VCU who expressed concern about vaccine prioritization.
"We want to be team players like everybody, but sometimes like the experience at VCU the team is defined according to the people who have the vaccine, and that's not right," Dr. Thomas Eppes Jr., a family physician outside of Lynchburg said.
Dr. Eppes said primary care providers like him, who are not affiliated with a hospital system, have a harder time getting the vaccine.
"I was rather insulted that a legal consultant for the hospital, got his vaccine before I did," Eppes said.
Virginia's Secretary of Health and Human Resources, Dr. Daniel Carey, was asked Wednesday if employees who telework, yet work in industries that are in the second and third priority groups, will be prioritized for the vaccine, and he said "no."
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