Employers eager to see their staff inoculated against the coronavirus will likely lean on pharmacies and other vendors to administer the shots off site rather than tackle the litany of challenges the Covid-19 vaccine presents.
To vaccinate on site, employers would have to acquire freezers to store the vaccines from
Whether or not they require workers to have the shots before re-entering the office, most employers will encourage employees to go to CVS, Walgreens, and other distributors that know how to handle vaccinations, attorneys and consultants say.
“The logistics of this vaccine, including cold chain requirements and a second dose, are more complicated than the influenza vaccine,” said Jeff Levin-Scherz, health management practice co-leader at consulting firm Willis Towers Watson.
Frontline health-care workers and long-term-care residents are first in line to get Covid-19 shots under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. Meanwhile, companies across industries—from retail to child care—are starting to grapple with how best to ensure their employees get vaccinated, especially as they weigh whether and how to safely reopen their doors.
Many non-health care employers will mandate vaccinations for at least some of their workers and may require proof of vaccination to return, said James Paretti, shareholder with Littler Mendelson PC and a member of the firm’s Workplace Policy Institute.
“I don’t know that the employer is going to be the one saying ‘we’re the one distributing vaccines,’ versus ‘we’re requiring vaccines,’” he said.
Pfizer and BioNTech SE were the first to win emergency use authorization of their Covid-19 vaccine, and the government planned to distribute 2.9 million doses of the shot to U.S. states this week. Moderna’s vaccine is expected to be recommended for use by a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel Thursday, with an emergency use authorization quickly following.
Pfizer’s vaccine ideally has to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius; however, it can be kept in a refrigerator at 2 to 8 degrees Celsius for five days, according to the company. Once thawed, the vials can’t be re-frozen. Moderna’s also needs to stay cold at minus 20 Celsius.
Monitoring the two-dose process would be a job in itself, according to Melissa Gonzalez Boyce, employment law editor at compliance firm XpertHR.
“This will require tracking of employees, dates on which they received their first dose, reminders to receive their second, and confirmation that they have indeed received their second dose,” Boyce said.
That’s on top of the basics of any vaccination program, which requires “appropriate personal protective equipment, trained staff to do the vaccination, and proper disposal of needles and syringes,” Levin-Scherz said.
Angela Burnette, counsel at Alston & Bird LLP’s health-care practice in Atlanta, said her clients are pushing for centralized operations away from their offices so vaccine suppliers don’t waste time, effort and life-saving doses carting around precious medicine.
“For example, if the vaccine is being stored at freezers located at public universities, those sites may also be conducive to employees traveling there (or another third-party site nearby) for administration of the vaccine,” Burnette wrote in an email.
Employers could then offer work-sponsored vouchers or online scheduling programs to facilitate getting vaccinated in a timely manner, she said.
Levin-Scherz said that most people will get vaccinated through pharmacies, health-care sites, and community drives. He added that launching an in-house vaccination program makes little sense “when many are working remotely.”
He estimated that high-risk employers—including those involved in food processing, manufacturing, and operating correctional facilities—might start giving on-site vaccinations a shot in “late 2021.”
Everyone else, he said, could tend to less at-risk personnel by encouraging—rather than mandating—staff to get vaccinated, covering any applicable costs via enhanced pharmacy/medical benefits, and providing time off to get the sequence of shots.
Businesses that do opt for on-site administration should be prepared to pay a premium for the shots and other necessities like cold storage, waste disposal, and trained medical staff, Elisa Lintemuth and James Hermon, members of Dykema Gossett PLLC’s labor and employment practice in Michigan, wrote in a joint email.
Elizabeth Milito, senior executive counsel at the National Federation of Independent Business, cited a conversation she had with a proactive daycare provider who peppered her with questions about adapting the on-site flu clinics he’s used to handle coronavirus vaccines. Local health officials weren’t sure when they could get to his people under the existing government guidelines, and hiring out for the job was proving difficult.
“I don’t think we’re going to be able to get a community nurse in here. At least not for a while,” Milito said the the daycare provider told her.
While employers can require Covid-19 vaccines, Paretti said he hasn’t advised anyone that inoculation should be required for every employee. Employers should be mindful of disability, pregnancy and religious exceptions, he said.
The Americans with Disabilities Act allows workers to request exemptions from vaccine mandates if they have a disability covered by the law. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits workplace discrimination based on religion, giving workers the right to seek an exemption based on their religious beliefs. Failing to provide reasonable accommodations to those workers could be grounds for a lawsuit.
But even if employers only encourage vaccination, Levin-Scherz said he’s urging them to do whatever it takes to inoculate staff.
Under the CARES Act, Congress expanded the Affordable Care Act to require insurers and employer health plans to cover any Covid-19 vaccines within 15 days of being recommended by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
“Put no barriers in the way,” Levin-Scherz said, adding that coverage should be extended to others in the work-from-home environment.
“We want their families to be vaccinated too,” he said.