COVID-19 Vaccine Q&A
Now that health care facilities, pharmacies and other community hubs are distributing the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine, many organizations are wondering what this means for them and their operations. Here are some frequently asked questions and their answers:
Who is eligible to receive the vaccine right now?
Initially, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending that individual states prioritize health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities in Phase 1a. In late December, a federal advisory committee to the CDC recommended that people age 75 and older and frontline essential workers should be next in line for Phase 1b. The definition of “essential workers” includes grocery store employees, teachers, postal workers, police officers and firefighters, among other professions. The committee also recommended recipients for Phase 1c—people who are 65 and older and those who have underlying medical conditions that put them at high risk for contracting COVID-19. You can learn the guidelines for your specific state here.
When will I be able to receive the vaccine?
Each state has the authority to decide who will be next in line to be vaccinated. Some counties have created a system through which residents can register to be notified as to when they will be able to receive a vaccine. Anyone who wants to know if such a system is in place should contact their local health department. Starting in December 2020, health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities were starting to receive their vaccinations. If you are a member of one of those groups and have not yet been contacted, talk to your local health department.
How long will it take for the vaccine to build immunity in my body?
For the Pfizer vaccine, scientists say it takes about five to six weeks after the first dose for maximum immunity to build up in the body. All who receive this vaccine must get a second dose three weeks after the first dose. For the Moderna vaccine, all who receive it must get a second dose four weeks after the first dose. Research suggests that immunity will last at least a year with both vaccines, but there isn’t enough data to know for sure.
If I get the vaccine, is it still possible for me to spread the virus?
Yes. While the vaccine will probably prevent you from becoming sick, there is not enough information yet to know whether it prevents you from becoming an asymptomatic carrier of the virus.
Is there a cost to getting vaccinated?
That depends on where you receive the vaccine, and whether or not you have insurance. The U.S. government is using taxpayer dollars to give the vaccine to all Americans, free of charge. However, vaccine providers may charge an administration fee for giving the shot. A patient’s insurance company may be able to cover this fee.
If I already had COVID-19 and recovered, do I still need to be vaccinated?
Contracting COVID-19 might offer some natural protection or immunity from reinfection with the virus that causes COVID-19. But it’s not clear how long this protection lasts. Because reinfection is possible and COVID-19 can cause severe medical complications, experts recommend that people who have already had COVID-19 get a COVID-19 vaccine. If you’ve had COVID-19, wait until 90 days after your diagnosis to get a vaccine.
Once the vaccine becomes widely available, will my organization be able to mandate compliance for all employees and volunteers?
In December, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released guidance on the responsibilities and rights of employers and employees in relation to the COVID-19 vaccines. Privately held companies have the right to require their employees to obtain a vaccination. According to the EEOC, “If an employee cannot get vaccinated for COVID-19 because of a disability or sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance, and there is no reasonable accommodation possible, then it would be lawful for the employer to exclude the employee from the workplace. This does not mean the employer may automatically terminate the worker. Employers will need to determine if any other rights apply under the EEO laws or other federal, state, and local authorities.”
That said, the Americans with Disabilities Act stipulates that an employer must show that an unvaccinated employee (who cannot get a vaccine because of a disability) would pose a “direct threat” to the health and safety of others that cannot be eliminated by reasonable accommodation, such as working from home.
If your organization decides to mandate the vaccine, you must make sure the vaccine is readily available to everyone who works or volunteers there. Consult with your organization’s employment attorney regarding how to respond to employees who decline to receive the vaccination.
Will my organization be able to mandate vaccination for members, guests, or participants in programs?
You can certainly encourage vaccination, once it becomes widely available. Because the vaccines have not received official approval from the FDA, it may be premature to insist that anyone who participates in your organization receive one. Most health care organizations are not requiring their employees to be vaccinated.
Should my organization move forward with planning this spring and summer on the assumption that it will be safe to gather as normal?
That’s a tricky subject, because it depends on how quickly the U.S. government is able to distribute the vaccines. It is likely that healthy adults who work in non-essential jobs will have to wait until mid- to late spring to get the first dose, which means they won’t be fully protected right away. Additionally, there are no vaccines available for children yet. It’s probably a good idea to plan your activities assuming you will need to take precautions for COVID-19, and then decide at the time of the event if you can loosen those restrictions. Visit the CDC website (link included) for updated guidance on considerations for events and gatherings in 2021.