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Inslee questions fairness of COVID-19 vaccine distribution at Bellevue's Overlake Medical Center

Bellevue's Overlake Medical Center is responding to questions about a massive invitation sent to thousands who, if qualified, could get a vaccine on short notice.

Questions about what constitutes fairness during distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine are being raised this week as the demand for the Pfizer and Moderna doses outstrips supply.   

On Monday, President of the Washington State Hospital Association Cassie Sauer worried that people would book multiple appointments, only go to one and leave other appointments unfilled and vaccine doses possibly going to waste.

Hospitals say they have plans in place to put surplus vaccines in arms with lists of qualified people to quickly receive the vaccine, or other forms of quick community outreach.

But now, Bellevue’s Overlake Medical Center is responding to questions about a massive invitation sent to thousands who, if qualified, could get a vaccine.

On Jan. 22, the hospital says it sent out emails to nearly everyone it had on file to fill unclaimed vaccination slots on short notice.  

Overlake said "proactive communications were sent to those for whom we had email addresses, including all of our 3,300 employees, patients aged 65 and above, groups of retired nurses and physicians and our volunteer and donor communities.  All of those individuals were sent a communication with a separate scheduling link due to various limitations of our schedule system.”

The hospital said everyone needs to use the Washington state Phase Finder website and prove eligibility, which for phase 1b1, is people age 65 and up, and those 50 and up living in multi-generational households.

RELATED: How to use Washington's PhaseFinder tool to determine your COVID-19 vaccine eligibility

During his news conference Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Jay Inlsee, who was aware of the invite, was not happy.  

“And if, in fact, they were giving preference to some VIP list, that was not a way to do it,” Inslee said. “It’s not acceptable for us. We need to get everybody a fair shot at the vaccine. If that’s what was happening, it simply wasn’t acceptable. We need fairness from the system and we have to maintain public credibility in the system.” 

Overlake Medical Center released the following statement: 

"Overlake Medical Center & Clinics has been working to rapidly vaccinate as many eligible members of our community as possible. Individuals are eligible to be vaccinated only if they meet the State of Washington/Department of Health (DOH) criteria as determined by Phase Finder. All communications have reflected that requirement and individuals are only receiving vaccine with proof of eligibility. To date, we have vaccinated about 10,000 individuals in phases 1A and 1B1 – including healthcare workers, first responders, and other eligible individuals.  We have thousands of appointments currently scheduled in our systems.

We have been able to augment our vaccine clinic’s staffing capacity and open up additional signup slots. To fill slots on short notice, proactive communications were sent to those for whom we had email addresses – including all of our 3,300 employees, patients aged 65 and above, groups of retired nurses and physicians, and our volunteer and donor communities. All of those individuals were sent a communication with a separate scheduling link due to various limitations of our scheduling system. All those receiving vaccine are required to show proof of eligibility."