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Frustration, questions over the order in which Swedish employees got vaccinated

Airlift Northwest flight nurse Mikaela Hagberg looks on as she receives one of the first COVID-19 vaccinations at UW Medicine on Dec. 15, 2020, in Seattle.
Elaine Thompson
The Associated Press
Airlift Northwest flight nurse Mikaela Hagberg looks on as she receives one of the first COVID-19 vaccinations at UW Medicine on Dec. 15, 2020, in Seattle.

Doctors and nurses on the critical-care team of Seattle-based medical system Swedish were left out of an initial electronic call-out inviting staff to get the coronavirus vaccine, sparking confusion and anger among workers caring for some of the sickest COVID-19 patients, according to internal emails and meeting recordings.

Emails and excerpts of video meetings obtained by KNKX show snafus with the vaccine rollout at the health-care organization, which has about 15,000 employees, resulted in some frontline workers not receiving an invitation this week to schedule a vaccine appointment.


“Some caregivers did not receive initial communications with an automated tool that was created and upon learning of it, a manual tech fix was used,” Swedish spokesperson Tiffany Moss said in an email Friday.

She said critical-care employees would still be among those who receive vaccines from the initial shipment.


“More than 1,000 Swedish caregivers and providers have received the COVID-19 vaccine to date, and more than 3,500 are scheduled to be vaccinated from the initial shipment, including the group you mention below,” Moss said in a separate email, referring to the critical-care team. 


“This is a high point for our organization in the fight against COVID, and we’re optimistic we will vaccinate all our caregivers in the coming weeks,” Moss added.


Among those passed over in an initial round of messages inviting staff to schedule a vaccination were members of Swedish Critical Care Medicine, which includes doctors and nurse practitioners who work in intensive care units with severely ill COVID-19 patients, according to emails obtained by KNKX. 

Frustration over the rollout emerged in a video town hall-style meeting with staff Thursday in which some staff members questioned the order in which employees were prioritized. 

Some staff members in the meeting bristled at news of employees who do not have contact with COVID-19 patients getting vaccinated before employees working on the front lines of the pandemic. Among those were family medicine residents, who said they also did not get an invitation to make a vaccination appointment despite working with COVID-19 patients.


“Many non caregivers (office support/managers) have been scheduled for vaccines,” one employee wrote in a text chat connected to the meeting, according to a screengrab shared with KNKX. “Why are they prioritized over caregivers?” 

“Please be transparent in who is prioritized to get the vaccine,” another employee wrote. “I know several direct non patient care employees who have received the vaccine appointment… Would like to see the list for who was prioritized before Covid caregivers.”

Dr. Chris Dale, chief quality officer for Swedish Health Services, responded to such concerns in the meeting, according to excerpts of the video obtained by KNKX. He said Swedish is focused on vaccinating frontline workers but “the sorting system has imperfections in it.” 

“We’re trying to make sure that everyone is speaking up for safety and raising their hand if they got omitted from the initial notifications,” Dale told employees in the meeting. He added that Swedish anticipated having “plenty of vaccine” to reach all of the highest-priority health-care workers in the first two weeks of the rollout.

The first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Washington state this week, after which Swedish and other health-care organizations started giving their first vaccinations. Trials show the vaccine is 95 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 infection after two doses injected 21 days apart.

State Department of Health officials said they learned this week Washington would get an initial shipment of 44,850 doses, rather than the 74,100 doses they had expected.

Washington health officials estimate 500,000 people are in “Phase 1a,” the group designated to get the vaccine first. It includes health-care workers and first responders in high-risk settings as well as patients and staff of long-term care facilities. 

Kevin Brooks, Swedish’s chief operating officer for acute care, told staff that “people are working well into the night to get the systems functioning.”

“You should be proud to work at Swedish and see this,” Brooks said in the meeting. “And there are some hiccups. It’s 15,000 people, so let’s just recognize that.”


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Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.