A second Pennsylvania health system has acknowledged that it gave the COVID-19 vaccine to employees' family members, but said it halted the program after discussions with the state Department of Health.
The University of Pennsylvania Health System said that its Chester County Hospital ran a "lottery system" for family members of employees who otherwise met the state's eligibility requirements.
"Based on guidance from the Pennsylvania Department of Health on this matter this week, Chester County Hospital has discontinued this practice," Patrick Norton, Penn Medicine's vice president for public affairs, said in a written statement provided in response to inquiries from The Associated Press.
The family members were chosen blindly. About 1,600 relatives of Chester County Hospital staff were vaccinated through the lottery system, which launched Jan. 22, Norton said Friday.
"We continue our commitment to protect as many individuals as possible while following all applicable eligibility guidance," he said.
Earlier this week, another large health network, Geisinger, acknowledged that it had allowed employees' family members to skip the COVID-19 vaccine line, holding three weekend clinics at which Geisinger employees were permitted to bring up to two family members so long as they were eligible under the state's phased vaccine rollout.
The state Health Department said this week that Geisinger shouldn't have set aside vaccine for employees' relatives, and threatened to withhold Geisinger's allotment of first vaccine doses.
"This is an equity issue," Lindsey Mauldin, the agency's senior adviser for COVID-19 response, said at a media availability Friday.
She said the Health Department is communicating with vaccine providers "every single day to make sure that folks are clear on where we want them to be."
Geisinger, which has facilities throughout central and northeastern Pennsylvania, has insisted it followed state guidelines for vaccine eligibility.
About 3,600 relatives of Geisinger employees were vaccinated under the program. No additional vaccine clinics for employee family members are scheduled.
Pennsylvania's other major health networks have said they didn't set aside vaccine for family members.
Statewide demand for the vaccine has far outstripped Pennsylvania's available supply, leading people who have been unable to secure a vaccine appointment as well as medical ethics experts to question the propriety of health networks giving special access to relatives.
More than 4 million Pennsylvania residents are currently eligible for the vaccine, including people age 65 and older and younger people with high-risk medical conditions. Through Thursday, nearly 1.6 million Pennsylvania residents had gotten at least one of the two required doses.