SAN JOSE, Calif. - Good Samaritan Hospital, one of the largest medical centers in the county, is permanently closing its COVID-19 vaccine clinic, claiming that it has vaccinated all of its staff and therefore fulfilled its responsibilities.
The news comes three weeks after the hospital faced backlash for allowing teachers and staff at an affluent Los Gatos school district to skip the line for COVID-19 vaccines by pretending to be health care workers.
The story, first reported by San Jose Spotlight, generated widespread outcry and led to the county withholding future vaccine doses from the hospital.
In an email obtained by this news organization, the hospital's Chief Medical Officer Klaus Thaler told staff that state-level changes in vaccine distribution have caused uncertainty about how the hospital's vaccine supply will be impacted.
"Thus, we officially closed our offering of first dose COVID vaccines to our colleagues, medical staff and community," Thaler wrote. "Thank you to all those who took advantage of the hospital's offering to get vaccinated and sincere appreciation for those frontline-team members who helped to operationalized (sic) the clinic."
A county spokesperson said officials had been notified of the clinic's closure and said it shouldn't have a noticeable effect on the vaccine rollout in Santa Clara County.
Good Samaritan officials say the focus was only to vaccinate its own health care workers -- not the broader community.
"Our focus has always been our healthcare workers getting vaccinated," said Antonio Castelan, a spokesman for HCA Healthcare, Good Samaritan's parent company. "We are now winding down our vaccination clinic since many of our employees already received their two doses."
Following the vaccine scandal, COVID-19 Testing Officer Marty Fenstersheib warned the county would withhold further vaccine doses to the hospital until it could prove it would follow the rules on distribution.
On Jan. 28, the hospital sent a letter to Fenstersheib outlining how it would comply with county orders and continue vaccinations.
The plan, written by hospital CEO Joe Deschryver, said the hospital would immediately begin increased screening measures to ensure it only vaccinated eligible patients. Hospital officials planned to check identification at the entrance of the hospital, outside the vaccine clinic and again inside the clinic.
DeSchryver said the hospital would not begin to vaccinate anyone beyond Tier 1 until it "exerts all efforts to vaccinate all health care workers in Phase 1A" and would follow a contingency plan to prevent vaccine wastage.
Phase 1A primarily includes health care workers. In response, Fenstersheib told the hospital on Feb. 2 to "administer second doses of vaccines to all individuals who received a first vaccine dose from Good Samaritan," including those who got a vaccine even though it was not their turn.
Fenstersheib said some who received their first COVID-19 shot at Good Samaritan are "confused" as to who will administer their second one and reaffirmed that the hospital needs to provide second doses to those individuals, instead of sending them to the county vaccine sites.
That happened to Irina Zaliznyak, a 61-year-old health care worker who is not an employee of Good Samaritan. She received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from Good Samaritan and expected to get her second shot on Feb. 16.
After hours of waiting on the phone, the hospital told Zaliznyak to ask the county for her second dose.
She was finally able to schedule her second vaccine appointment with Good Samaritan earlier this month. Given the hospital's decision to suspend its vaccine clinic except for second doses, Fenstersheib directed the hospital to return unused vaccines back to the county to be redistributed to other providers.
It is unclear if Good Samaritan had done so.
"If any additional health care workers at Good Samaritan request vaccination, they may be directed to county-operated sites," Fenstersheib wrote.
County officials said Friday that Good Samaritan would remain on the county's vaccine dashboard even after closing its COVID-19 vaccine clinic "as an indicator of vaccine history."
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