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A Seattle medical center gave its 'major donors' vaccine priority

It's been over 10 months since Madonna questionably called COVID-19 "the great equalizer," and her words continue to age like milk.

Nearly 20 million people in the U.S. have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine and 3.5 million have been fully vaccinated, with healthcare personnel, older adults, and other essential workers among the prioritized groups. But in some cases, all it takes is a little monetary gift to move to the top of the queue.

Overlake Medical Center & Clinics, a hospital outside of Seattle, Washington, found itself with 500 open vaccine slots — and it chose to send emails to its "major" donors offering the jab, The Seattle Times reports. The "by invite" only emails were reportedly sent to those who had given more than $10,000 to the hospital system, and they offered up slots during the last week of January.

Overlake decided to "cut access to the exclusive appointments" following a call from the office of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) Tuesday morning. Inslee later said the prioritization of a "VIP list" for vaccine appointments is "not acceptable for us," adding that "we've got to maintain public credibility in the system."

The appointments were not solely offered to the list of over 100 donors, Overlake said, but were also presented to board members, patients, volunteers, employees, and retired health providers, per The Seattle Times. The medical center's chief operating officer Tom DeBord told The Times "In hindsight, we could certainly look back and say this wasn't the best way to do it."

The snafu at Overlake isn't an isolated event. Vaccine "fast-passes" have been distributed to members of the donor class in Florida, while wealthy non-donors have pestered doctors over whether a donation would boost their priority in the queue. The optics of the Overlake situation only add more fuel to the fire regarding the vaccine's velvet rope.