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Mayo: We deserve more vaccine than we are getting

Clinic says facilities elsewhere able to vaccinate non-COVID-caring staff while Mayo has not; state officials disagree.

The first box of COVID-19 vaccine arrived at Mayo Clinic at 8 a.m Thursday December 17, 2020. (Mayo Clinic photo)

ROCHESTER, Minn. — In the first volley of what could become weeks of jockeying over limited vaccine allocations among the state's health care facilities, a top official for Mayo Clinic Rochester told reporters on Monday, Dec. 21, that the facility deserved more COVID-19 vaccine on a population basis than it is getting so far.

"We aren't in charge of the allocation of vaccine we are receiving," said Executive Dean for Medical Practice Dr. Amy Williams during an afternoon call with reporters.

"Our staff, what they are hearing ... from their colleagues around the state as well as in other states, (is) that (others) are getting vaccinated, even if they have roles that don't expose them on a regular basis to COVID-19 patients. Or (roles that) don't put them at the same high risk of being exposed to COVID-19 as some of our staff."

"This has been very difficult," Williams added. "We need to make sure that our staff receives the doses that they need."

Williams said the clinic is slated to receive "a little more" Pfizer vaccine this week than last, "and for that we are pleased." Mayo Clinic received 2,925 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine last week, and began providing those in a new facility built to streamline delivery of shots for the health care giant. Williams said Mayo now has the capacity to deliver 10,000 COVID-19 vaccinations a week.


The Moderna vaccine due next week is earmarked for non-health care facilities and other small sites that do not have ultracold storage, primarily serving residents of long-term care.

At this time, the groups designated first priority of Phase 1a, the state vaccine distribution plan, directs that the Pfizer vaccine be apportioned to health care workers who come in contact with COVID-19 patients or those whose work puts them at highest risk of contracting the virus. It also includes COVID-facing testers, vaccinators, EMS and long-term care staff.

Williams stressed that just under 6% of the entire 38,000-person Mayo Midwest staff has received the vaccine. Health officials counter that any discrepancy between the percentage of total staff covered at Mayo with a higher percentage elsewhere could be a reflection of the multiple roles played by smaller staffs in regional hospitals.

"Depending on where you are talking about regionally," said Nicholas Kimball, communications for the Minnesota Department of Health," in certain hospitals the whole staff can be COVID-facing."

The vaccine is being distributed according to a formula with a focus on geographic comprehensiveness, based on U.S. census data known as the American Community Survey of health care workers. Regions treating a higher percentage of residents on a federal Social Vulnerability Index receive extra consideration in the equation.

Nonetheless, all Pfizer vaccine is to be used on COVID-19-facing health care workers, EMS, testers and vaccinators only at this time. Mayo Clinic says that it has 9,700-11,000 frontline COVID-19 caregivers in acute care settings, all of whom would presumably be entitled to vaccine before health care workers with lesser exposure working elsewhere in the state.

"Is it possible people elsewhere outside that first priority group have received a shot yet?" says Kimball. "The vaccines are being distributed for administration on staff in the first priority group of Phase 1a, and the expectation is that's who is being vaccinated right now."

Williams said she believes at the current projections Mayo will need until the end of February or the beginning of March for frontline high-risk employees to receive vaccine. After that, Mayo has another 28,000 employees in the Midwest. Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said on MPR Monday morning that she believes all health care workers in the state will be vaccinated by the end of January.


"We deeply value everything Mayo brings to the state," said Kimball in a statement. "They operate an elite health care system that people come from all over the world to access. In this case, we have a different point of view of how to approach vaccine distribution."

"The supply of vaccine is currently extraordinarily limited and does not allow for the immediate vaccination of every person in Phase 1. We will get to that point, but we aren’t there yet. ... We take their concerns seriously. We convened the other systems and have not heard similar concerns."

"We have voiced our concerns to those that can hopefully help resolve this," Williams said. "We hope that this will be addressed in a way that enables our staff to be vaccinated at the same pace as other health care workers in the state. ... Our staff is clamoring to get the vaccine," she added. "We have not seen a hint of hesitation from those on the front line."

It was an unusual assertion of being passed over for the clinic, which, as the largest private employer in the state and one of the leading health care brands in the country, is not used to finding itself on the short end of supplies or resources.

The same day of the news that it believed it had been under-apportioned vaccine, Mayo reported in a statement that it was doing well enough financially to give back nearly half of the federal stimulus it had received for COVID-19 preparations and mitigation.

"Mayo Clinic is grateful for the federal CARES provider relief funding," a statement read, "which was critical to supporting Mayo’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We understand the responsibility that comes with accepting this funding, which was intended to support organizations facing losses resulting from COVID-19."

"Thanks to the hard work of Mayo Clinic staff and the strong partnerships within the communities we serve, we have been able to resume many of our practice, research and education activities. Due to our earlier-than-expected recovery, Mayo Clinic has returned $156 million in CARES funding to the federal government, effective Monday, Dec. 21, with the hope that those funds can be redistributed to organizations with immediate needs.”

Paul John Scott is the health reporter for NewsMD and the Rochester Post Bulletin. He is a novelist and was an award-winning magazine journalist for 15 years prior to joining the FNS in 2019.
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