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With the US Food and Drug Administration's authorization for emergency use of the first COVID-1
When will the vaccine be available?
Each state will determine its distribution strategy. Most government strategies use the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Interim Playbook for Jurisdiction Operations issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This strategy includes priority population identification, vaccine distribution and supply chain constraints.
Due to limited availability, the distribution strategies include broad categories of priority populations with a step-by-step strategy:
- Phase 1 – Healthcare professionals, important workers and high-risk people
- Phase 1-A: Paid and unpaid persons working in care environments that have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients or infectious materials
- Phase 1-B: People who play a crucial role in maintaining important societal functions and cannot have a social distance from workplace (eg emergency and law enforcement staff not included in Phase 1-A, food packaging and distribution staff, teachers / school staff, childcare providers), adults with high-risk medical conditions who have risk factors for severe COVID-19 disease and persons 65 years or older (including those living in LTC Fs)
- Phase 2 – Increase supply and supply expanded t ill to cover a wider range of population, with more suppliers involved, and;
- Phase 3 – Sufficient supply to meet demand; distribution integrated into routine vaccination programs.
The Biden campaign and the transition team have communicated plans for a more prominent role in the COVID-19 response in the United States. This is likely to include increased federal guidance and more comprehensive oversight of the vaccine delivery strategy. State and local jurisdictions will continue to be responsible for much of the vaccine delivery. CDC guidance and federal surveillance could be developed in the coming months as vaccines become available and distribution begins.
Can the vaccine be authorized?
States have the constitutional authority to order nationwide vaccinations based on a 1905 Supreme Court ruling regarding the smallpox vaccine. The court said, "States have the power to adopt reasonable rules that are necessary to protect public health, public safety and the public interest." In response to the argument about individual freedoms, the court said that “the rights of the individual can sometimes, under pressure from great dangers, be subject to such restraint that must be implemented through reasonable rules that public safety may require.
Private employers can prescribe the vaccine for employees. As with all vaccine mandates, either state or employer, there are federally regulated exceptions.
Should my organization mandate COVID-19 vaccination?
Although it is legal for employers to vaccinate COVID-19, employers should anticipate the return of employees and be aware of the large commitment to process requests for exemptions.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) require employers to provide housing for employees who cannot receive the vaccine for medical reasons. The employee is responsible for providing information about the limitation or nature of the disability and the difficulty or issue that the vaccination would cause. An employer may require an employee to provide documentation from the employee's medical provider to confirm the employee's specific limitation or disability and the need for an exemption.
Under Section VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers must provide an exemption to individuals who have sincerely religious beliefs. Supporting documentation requests from employers of employees is acceptable. However, be careful and do not ask for unnecessary evidence as it risks liability for denying exceptions.
Some companies will have strong reasons for requiring vaccines. Organizations whose employees are at risk or pose a risk to others will have a more extensive business case to authorize the vaccine than companies that depend on remote employees. Depending on the type of business, it may be the easiest way to administer for many employers to make a policy that encourages but does not require vaccination.