SAN FRANCISCO - San Francisco-based One Medical has come under scrutiny for administering COVID-19 vaccines to people under 65 in violation of the state of California guidelines.
"The reason we have this tiered system is that there’s not enough of them to give to everyone," said Dr. Lee Riley, a professor of infectious diseases at UC Berkeley. "We have to create the priority of different high-risk groups to receive the vaccines."
Alameda County reports that they have stopped allocating doses to the medical startup company.
A statement to KTVU Thursday said: "In late January, Alameda County allocated 975 doses of Pfizer vaccine so they could vaccinate the Phase 1a health care workers who were their members. After that initial allocation, they were not allocated any other doses. Alameda County did not fulfill One Medical’s next request in early February for additional doses when they indicated that they planned to vaccinate more than their health care workers (who were the only approved group prioritized for vaccinations at the time) next. We have not allocated any additional doses to One Medical."
Health leaders in Marin County echoed a similar severing of ties with the company following reports that it had administered doses to people who are ineligible to receive one.
"We are currently investigating the practices of One Medical in Marin County. As part of our investigation, we have reviewed the data of Marin County residents that received a vaccine from One Medical. We found that 72% of first doses administered were given to residents age 65 and older. Thus far, 54% of second doses have been given to residents age 65 & older (second doses are still underway)."
This is for all One Medical locations that have given a dose to Marin residents, so it may include some San Francisco locations. Given the timeframe One Medical came online, we would expect the number of older adults vaccinated would be higher.
"We have only provided One Medical with enough doses to finish the second dose vaccinations they are required to give to those people who received first doses (we advise residents to seek their second dose from the source of their first dose). However, we have indefinitely suspended any further first dose allocations to One Medical, pending further review. We have also removed One Medical from our website as a recommended Marin County-based vaccine provider," according to a statement released to KTVU.
One Medical's distribution of doses to ineligble people was first reported by NPR. In some cases around the country, the company vaccinated "people with connections to company leaders and customers of its concierge medical service," according to NPR.
How the company distributed the vaccine to those ineligible is a key issue, says Stanford University bioethicist, David Magnus.
"Still somewhat problematic is whether or not they actually had leftover doses that they had to dispose of at the end of the day and then the decision making around how they had to do that," said Magnus.
A health official in San Francisco County sent a letter to One Medical requesting that it return 270 vials in its possession.
In response to the move, a spokesperson for One Medical said: "As seen in the letter shared by the San Francisco Department of Health on February 22 requesting that we return 270 vials of Pfizer doses, there was no mention of concern around One Medical’s eligibility enforcement procedures but instead an indication that our vaccine clinics were not in geographies that the DPH is currently considering the highest priority. While we have seen and continue seeing patients for care from all over San Francisco at our vaccination site, we do not yet have physical offices in the neighborhoods that are currently prioritized by the SF DPH. Just today, we have received further communication from the SF DPH reiterating that the re-allocation was due to a desire to prioritize other sites while vaccine supply is scarce. We have offered and continue to offer our services, expertise and technology to the SF DPH to vaccinate eligible groups in accordance with their guidance and have and will make adjustments to the best of our ability if specific requests are made to our team."
San Francisco was not the only county that stopped sending doses to the company as San Mateo did so as well.
But One Medical seems to point the finger squarely back at the county for vaccinating certain people who did not fall under the state’s required guidelines say "In San Mateo County, SMC Health stopped supplying One Medical with vaccines after we -- in good faith -- vaccinated a group of public school teachers who had been referred to One Medical by their school superintendent after receiving notification from the state of California that they were eligible."
One Medical is a concierge-based service, catering to a more affluent customer base, which Magnus says highlights an even bigger issue.
"The vaccine distribution is not being done in an equitable or just fashion and people who need it the most and have the highest rates from these communities are not getting the vaccine," Magnus said.
When asked whether One Medical anticipates rectifying with issues with counties so it can once again begin receiving and administering inoculation, the company said:
"We are proud of our team’s steadfast dedication to doing our best to save lives at this critical time, and look forward to putting our time and resources into vaccinating eligible patients as quickly and efficiently as possible, in collaboration with local health officials in the communities that we serve."