As of 6 a.m. EDT March 16, a total of 142,918,525 vaccine doses had been distributed in the U.S., and 110,737,856 had been administered, or 77.48 percent. Additionally, 72,135,616 people had received one or more doses of the vaccine, and 39,042,345 had received the full two doses. That means 21.7 percent of the U.S. population had received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 11.8 percent had been fully vaccinated.
Healthcare personnel and residents of long-term care facilities are near the top of the list of priority recipients, though each state is handling allocation differently. With more vaccinations available for the public, practices should consider their policies regarding vaccinations.
SHOULD AN EMPLOYEE POLICY REQUIRE VACCINATIONS?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) stated that equal employment opportunity laws “do not interfere with or prevent employers from following CDC or other federal, state, and local public health authorities’ guidance and suggestions." .
The EEOC confirmed that vaccination itself is not a medical examination
it also pointed out that certain medical-related questions need to be posed to an individual before the vaccine is given to assure that the person does not have a medical condition that makes the vaccine unsafe. The EEOC explains that those questions can constitute “disability-related inquiries” regulated by the ADA, which employers may only ask under certain circumstances.
The EEOC and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) addressed workforce vaccinations a decade ago during the H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic. The EEOC’s pandemic preparedness guidance, which has been updated in response to the coronavirus, does not forbid mandatory vaccination policies if exemptions are provided for disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and for sincerely held religious beliefs under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII). OSHA also took the position that an employer may require vaccination. However, OSHA also stated that if an employee refuses vaccination based on a reasonable belief that he or she has a medical condition that creates a real danger of serious illness or death (such as a serious reaction to the vaccine), the employee may have certain whistleblower protections under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. As a result, if a healthcare practice decides to mandate vaccinations, it must be prepared to handle employee objections.
HOW TO PREPARE YOUR PRACTICE PROTOCOLS
Best practices for preparing and implementing a vaccination program and policies for physicians and employees:
Consider whether the COVID-19 vaccine will be mandatory or merely encouraged and which positions or departments should be prioritized for vaccination. If vaccination is mandatory, ensure your human resources representatives are informed of and have processes in place to handle objections to the vaccine, whether based on religious beliefs or medical conditions, as discussed above.
Consider what accommodations may be available to employees with legitimate objections. Develop a written form for requests for exemptions to formalize the process, but keep in mind employers must make individualized evaluations when reviewing objections. To maintain employee morale, consider how you can lawfully separate bona fide objections from opportunists seeking to avoid work.
Ensure that you are treating all employees equally and are not retaliating against employees who do voice safety concerns. Communicate early and often with your workforce about your vaccination program and how you intend to handle the coronavirus vaccine once it is available, including which positions or departments will be prioritized. A written policy will provide protocols and standards to guide your employees in any vaccination program and provide some certainty in very uncertain times.
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