Some of the first people to get COVID-19 vaccinations at a New Jersey medical center were the relatives of top hospital executives and some of its trustees and donors, according to a published report.
The shots were administered by Hunterdon Medical Center in December and early January, at a time when only front-line health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities were eligible.
A registry of vaccine recipients, obtained by New Jersey 101.5 FM, indicated that shots had gone to two longtime donors to the hospital and at least seven spouses and two adult children of medical directors, administrators or executives at the health care network. The radio station said it was given the registry by a whistleblower, who it did not identify.
Some of the recipients were in their 20s, an age group unlikely to qualify for the vaccine for many months.
A hospital spokesperson said donors and board members weren’t given preference over eligible staff or at-risk individuals who were available, but that they received the vaccine when eligible recipients couldn’t be located rather than have the vaccine doses go to waste.
“More than 99% of the doses Hunterdon Healthcare has administered so far have gone to prioritized health care workers, clinicians, seniors and at-risk individuals,” spokesperson Jason VanDiver said in an email Thursday.
“When additional Hunterdon Healthcare employees or physicians wanting the vaccine could not be located before a vaccine dose expired, we vaccinated volunteers who were easily contacted and immediately available, including family members of clinic staff, board members, community members, and family members of the leadership team,” he said.
VanDiver added that initial guidance from the state Department of Health suggested that board members and trustees were considered unpaid hospital employees and eligible to receive excess doses, and that the waste of vaccines should be avoided at all costs.
Despite the explanation that vaccines were only given to the broader public when they were about to expire, two donors who had given at least $10,000 to the hospital were given shots on Dec. 18. That is one day after the hospital got its first shipment, according to the records obtained by New Jersey 101.5.
New Jersey has been receiving about 100,000 vaccine doses per week, but health officials have said the state needs more than four times that many to meet demand. A state-run hotline for vaccine appointments has been inundated, and residents have complained about waiting months for appointments or not being able to get them at all.
New Jersey had administered vaccines to about 650,000 people through Wednesday. The state opened up eligibility to people aged 16 to 64 with medical conditions, including smokers, this month.