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Jayapal and DelBene Demand HHS Ban Preferential Access to COVID-19 Vaccines

“We urge you to ensure that preferential access to COVID-19 vaccines be explicitly banned in the CDC provider agreement and on the list of CDC’s COVID-19 vaccination provider requirements”

WASHINGTON — U.S. Representatives Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) and Suzan DelBene (WA-01) led 25 members of Congress today in demanding that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) ban preferential access to COVID-19 vaccines while establishing greater accountability measures. The lawmakers’ letter to HHS Acting Secretary Norris Cochran also requested responses to three questions related to preferential access and the inequitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines. 

“We write to raise concerns about reports that individuals with influence have been granted special access to COVID-19 vaccines by hospitals around the country,” wrote the lawmakers. “It is critical that HHS establish appropriate mechanisms of oversight to ensure this does not become a recurring incident. We urge you to ensure that preferential access to COVID-19 vaccines be explicitly banned in the CDC provider agreement and on the list of CDC’s COVID-19 vaccination provider requirements available on the CDC website.”

The lawmakers’ demand to ban preferential access follows reports from across the country that wealthy individuals and others with influence have been provided the opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccine before they are eligible. Hospitals in the Puget Sound region of Washington state were caught having allowed donors, board members, fundraising campaign volunteers and others to register for special invite-only COVID-19 appointments even though they weren’t yet eligible to receive the vaccine. This also occurred in New Jersey where a hospital allowed wealthy donors, executives and their relatives to receive the vaccine before they were eligible. Additionally, a nursing home in Florida provided vaccines intended for elderly residents to wealthy donors and members of a nearby country club. 

This preferential treatment is occurring as the pandemic exacerbates health inequities throughout America. While communities of color have experienced a disproportionate rate of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths, only 5 percent of COVID-19 vaccines have gone to Black Americans and only 11 percent to Latinx Americans. Black, Latinx, Asian and Indigenous Americans are also more likely to be serving as frontline and essential workers during this crisis. 

As the lawmakers called for vaccine distribution to be done in a just, equitable and transparent manner, they also requested responses from HHS to the following three questions:

  • How are you monitoring and tracking COVID-19 vaccine distribution by pharmacy chains, large multi-state health care systems and others?
  • What mechanisms do you intend to establish to ensure accountability for inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines?
  • What actions will you take to remediate the inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines by hospitals around the country, such as those in the Puget Sound region, and other similar grievances?

The full letter can be found here.

The letter was signed by U.S. Representatives Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Suzan DelBene (WA-01), Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44), Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30), André Carson (IN-07), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Jason Crow (CO-06), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), Jesús G. “Chuy” García (IL-04), Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20), Jahana Hayes (CT-05), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Derek Kilmer (WA-06), Rick Larsen (WA-02), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Grace Meng (NY-06), Marie Newman (IL-03), Donald M. Payne, Jr. (NJ-10), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Kim Schrier, M.D. (WA-08), Adam Smith (WA-09), Marilyn Strickland (WA-10), Mark Takano (CA-41), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) and Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-07).