After the country waited with anticipation for the better part of a year for a vaccine that would return us to some sense of normalcy, the FDA finally approved two vaccines in December. The plan was to vaccinate frontline healthcare workers first – for obvious and understandable reasons. It was also the plan that 20 million people would be vaccinated by the end of 2020. As of today, vaccinations for frontline healthcare workers are progressing, but we are nowhere near the 20 million goal. We are closer to 10 million. At the same time, employers everywhere are trying to evaluate (1) what options they have, if any, when it comes to vaccination programs, (2) when can their employees get the vaccine, and (3) um, how is this going to work. So, where are we and what’s next?
First, it appears that the vaccination rollout plan is about to change. In recent weeks, the incoming Biden Administration has indicated that it will scrap the original rollout plan and immediately release all vaccine reserves in an attempt to vaccinate more people, faster. Today, the Trump Administration has indicated that it will do the same, even in the last week of its Administration. That means that the group of people eligible to receive vaccines is about to grow – hopefully substantially.
In Pennsylvania, the Department of Health has established a phased approach. The frontline healthcare workers were Phase 1a. Next is Phase 1b, which includes: people over 75; people in congregated settings; first responders; correctional officers; food and agricultural workers; manufacturing workers; grocery store workers; teachers; clergy; public transit workers; and workers in child and adult care facilities. You can review the phases here: Vaccine (pa.gov). Yesterday, Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine hinted that the plan for implementing vaccines for people in Phase 1b is coming soon. With the release of the reserve vaccines by the Trump and Biden Administrations, as well as Dr. Levine’s indication that the Phase 1b plan is coming, we should expect Phase 1b to roll out in the coming days and weeks.
Good news, but how do you get vaccines in the arms of your employees? As employers look to next steps, this is the first question on top of their mind. The exact parameters are not clear yet, and likely won’t be until Pennsylvania rolls out its formal plan for Phase 1b. However, the Department of Health has suggested that Pennsylvania will utilize the CDC’s Vaccine Finder website. You can find that here: Vaccinefinder. Through that site, individuals and employers can find where vaccines are available based on proximity to geographic location. From there, individuals and employers can make appointments based on availability. This does not include other initiatives that may be implemented, like 24-hour drive through vaccination in sporting facilities and large venues (like we have seen in other states, like Arizona).
Once employers satisfy themselves with the logistics of getting employees access to vaccines, the next question is: can you make it mandatory that all of your employees get vaccinated? Yes, it is possible to make a vaccination program mandatory – but there are many traps for the unwary. The vaccination program policy and the implementation of the program are critically important to avoid those traps, while ensuring that your workforce gets protected from the virus that has so ravaged our day-to-day lives.
If you would like to learn more about employers’ role in the vaccination process, McNees is hosting a webinar on January 20, 2021: The COVID-19 Vaccine – Guiding Your Workforce to the Light at the End of the Tunnel. You can access the registration here.