GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — One woman was outraged when she learned that a West Michigan insurance company whose employees have been working from home are receiving the COVID-19 vaccine ahead of elderly and other vulnerable adults.

Priority Health is an insurance company but because it is owned by Spectrum Health, its employees are included in the first phase of the vaccine rollout.

“I thought it was a rumor because I couldn’t believe that,” Jamie Mills said.

Mills is a health consultant that works with Priority Health and has admired their work with patients. Her feelings of admiration turned to anger when she learned the employees were receiving the vaccine ahead of their elderly clients.

“I’m angry about it,” Mills said. “I am angry because I know people in nursing homes and I know people who have lost their lives due to this illness.”

Priority Health says 99% of its roughly 1,700 employees are working from home during the pandemic. Some are now starting to go back to the offices — not hospitals — where they work.

One Priority Health employee agreed with Mills in an email that giving the vaccine to those at higher risks is a better approach. 

“Why would you take a vaccine from your own client base for your own well-being?” Mills wondered. “I just want them (Priority Health) to answer that.” 

Priority Health declined to comment Tuesday, directing News 8 to its parent company Spectrum Health. Spectrum said that most of its front-line employees who want the vaccine have received it. It still has doses in stock, but is limited in who those may be distributed to.

“We understand the urgency of reaching all members in our community with the vaccine as soon as possible,” it said in a statement. “At this time, we do not have permission from the State to vaccinate those outside of Phase 1a.”

Spectrum believes Priority Health employees are covered in Phase 1a. 

“I know darn well that the governor and I believe all politicians want to save our elderly people and our front-line workers first,” Mills said. “Not people who are working from home at 35 years old and do not need to be first in line in that vaccine.”

Mills hoped that by calling them out, Priority Health workers will decline to take the vaccine.

“How can you vaccinate a 25-year-old over your own clients who are disintegrating in these nursing homes and assisted living because of no human contact? How can you morally not stand up and say no?” she added. 

The federal government, not the state or Spectrum, is handling vaccine rollouts in long-term care facilities. As of Monday, the state’s vaccine dashboard shows, more than 8,000 people in Michigan had been vaccinated through that federal program.

Employees at other insurance companies in Michigan, including McLaren in the Flint area and HAP in the Detroit area, are also receiving the vaccine during phase 1a. Both are part of integrated health care systems.

Full statement from Spectrum Health:

“Spectrum Health is vaccinating its team members, long-term care residents and members of the medical community based on direction from the CDC and State of Michigan. Our top priority is to vaccinate front-line caregivers and those with direct patient contact. We look forward to vaccinating people in Phase 1b when the State directs us.

“To date, Spectrum Health has received approximately 28,000 first doses of the vaccine and 6,000 second doses. The majority of these first doses arrived at our facilities on December 23. More than 11,000 team members have been vaccinated and nearly 4,000 more are scheduled to be vaccinated by the end of this week (first doses).

“The State has directed us to administer the vaccine to as many Spectrum Health System team members and community front-line health care workers as we can.
· All front-line health care workers are prioritized, including our front-line teams, medical staff and any others we are asked to vaccinate in the community per the health department, such as dentists and independent physicians and their respective teams.
· The second priority is those who support front line operations at Spectrum Health, such as people involved in ordering medical supplies and medications, important business operations, human resources, the call center and scheduling. Expanding access to vaccinations ensures that our critical infrastructure remains stable and our operations run smoothly, so we can remain focused on caring for our community. 
· Team members in corporate areas, Priority Health and those working remotely are prioritized last. However, when we have open clinic appointments, we are offering them to all team members so we can leverage our capacity and vaccine supply. We have approximately 1,500 vaccine slots available each day.

“We understand the urgency of reaching all members in our community with the vaccine as soon as possible. We stand ready for the next phases of vaccine distribution. At this time, we do not have permission from the State to vaccinate those outside of Phase 1a. Once we have approval and the agreed upon process, we will begin offering the vaccine more broadly to the community. “