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Online petition calls on BJC to change COVID-19 vaccine plan doctors said puts older workers ahead of frontline employees

Doctors told 5 On Your Side the plan did not prioritize health care workers on the front lines, now an online petition is calling for BJC to make a change

ST. LOUIS — Some members of the medical staff at Barnes Jewish Hospital who say the administration’s vaccine rollout plan is leaving young frontline workers at risk have launched an online petition to protest the policy and demand it be changed.

The petition is getting support from across the country. More than 600 people had signed the petition as of 9 p.m. Sunday. That number more than tripled by Monday afternoon, reaching nearly 2,000 signatures as of 3:30 p.m.

One woman wrote: “I’m an ICU nurse at BJC, my coworkers & I take care of the sickest COVID patients with the highest risks for transmission. That administrative staff working from home is prioritized above those on the front line is appalling. That the excuse is ‘worries about staffing’ is reprehensible. You won’t have any staff if everyone is out with COVID. This policy needs to be changed immediately. This is poorly thought out, and completely goes against the CDC guidelines.”

Doctors who did not want to be identified for fear of retaliation told 5 On Your Side exclusively Saturday about how some doctors, residents, nurses, respiratory therapists and emergency room physicians who treat COVID-19 patients have been told they won’t be vaccinated until the end of January because administrators are vaccinating older staff members first.

RELATED: Doctors say BJC prioritizing older employees for COVID-19 vaccine, not frontline workers

Barnes administrators responded with a statement, which read, in part, “BJC HealthCare and Washington University School of Medicine’s vaccine distribution model was based on CDC recommendations and a painstaking review of risk factors to ensure we protect our caregivers most at-risk of suffering adverse effects of COVID-19.”

An internal memo obtained by 5 On Your Side that explained the policy to staff members read, in part,  “It is possible to experience side effects from the vaccine. For this reason, the CDC has recommended hospitals organize their vaccinations in a way that minimizes the risk of having multiple members of the same team off work due to side effects.”

The online petition quotes that portion of the internal memo and continues: “This argument makes no logical sense, as these people are mostly in the same age group and would be immunized together according to BJH’s current policy.

“The healthcare workers and the public are appalled that BJC would unethically neglect the very people they call their ‘healthcare heroes’, especially when other hospitals in the Saint Louis area seemingly got this process ‘right’.”

The online petition titled, “Help frontline nurses at BJC get vaccinated!” also includes a picture of Dr. John Lynch, president of Barnes Jewish Hospital, getting vaccinated and holding a sign, which reads, “The beginning of COVID’s end.”

“This policy not only unfairly favors the administrative staff, including the president of BJH, Dr. John Lynch, who is not working at the bedside, but it also means that the vast majority of people working with COVID patients – mainly people in their twenties and thirties – are amongst the last to receive the vaccine.”

BJC administrators issued a statement to 5 On Your Side Saturday, which read, in part, “First and foremost, we are giving priority to staff who interact with patients. That means everybody being offered a vaccine at this time has patient interaction – including doctors, nurses, housekeepers, food service workers, technicians and more. Any leader from our organizations who receives vaccine is only eligible to do so because they also deliver patient care. Within this patient-facing priority group, we are scheduling in descending order of age because research shows a higher risk of mortality among those caregivers over forty.”

But doctors who spoke to 5 On Your Side say some people, including secretaries who do not have direct interaction with patients, and others who are working from home, are getting vaccinated.