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March 15, 2021

CDC recommends veterinarians be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines

As rollout continues, APHIS deploys veterinarians to help with the vaccination effort, some states consider having private practitioners help vaccinate people
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended in mid-January that anyone who provides veterinary services be prioritized in Phase 1b of COVID-19 vaccine distribution plans as front-line essential workers.

“The AVMA has been advocating actively and successfully at the national level to help policymakers understand the importance of veterinary services and the need to prioritize veterinary access to COVID vaccines,” said Dr. Douglas Kratt, AVMA president, in a video highlighting AVMA resources on COVID-19 vaccination.

Back-office poster to encourage vaccination
The AVMA offers this back-office poster to encourage vaccination.

As of Feb. 2, at least 20 states had included veterinarians and other veterinary staff members in Phase 1a, 1b, or 1c of their state COVID-19 vaccine distribution plans, according to the AVMA. Phase 1a encompasses essential health care workers, while Phase 1c encompasses essential workers not in Phase 1a or 1b.

On Feb. 17, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service within the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that the agency had deployed 119 employees, including veterinary medical officers and animal health technicians, to assist with the vaccination effort in several states.

And while private practitioners might want to help vaccinate people, the AVMA advises considering the possibility of legal risk in a litigious society before agreeing to do so.

Vaccines for veterinarians

“The rollout has been really challenging for those waiting to be vaccinated,” said Dr. Gail Golab, AVMA chief veterinary officer. She was speaking during the webinar “COVID-19 Update: Veterinarians and Vaccines” available via AVMA Axon, the AVMA’s online platform for continuing education and other offerings.

In September 2020, the AVMA provided comments to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on the “Discussion Draft of the Preliminary Framework for Equitable Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine.” The draft helped inform the CDC’s “COVID-19 Vaccination Program Interim Playbook for Jurisdiction Operations.”

Then, in January, the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices mapped guidance from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which identified essential critical infrastructure workers, to corresponding vaccination phases. Throughout the pandemic, Dr. Golab said, the AVMA has been providing input to CISA, encouraging the agency to recognize veterinarians in all types of practice as essential critical infrastructure workers.

“So when the rollout phases were mapped from those CISA guidelines, those providing veterinary services were specifically and discretely recommended for inclusion by the CDC in Phase 1b, and this was a hugely important federal win for veterinary medicine,” Dr. Golab said. “It is important to recognize, however, that final decisions about priorities for administration of COVID-19 vaccines are actually being made at the state and territorial level, so vaccine availability for veterinary personnel is going to vary by location.”

Dr. Golab said state and local VMAs have been working hard to support veterinary teams’ access to COVID-19 vaccines. The AVMA has been assisting by providing information about federal developments as well as talking points and communication support.

Illustration: People in line for vaccination

Veterinarians helping with the vaccination effort

Most of APHIS’ deployed employees will help vaccinate people in Nevada and Oklahoma. The agency sent eight employees to Texas to help manage resources for a vaccination site. The agency also virtually deployed six employees to assist Washington state in planning vaccination efforts, four employees to assist Oregon, and nine employees to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The AVMA was aware that at least four states—Colorado, Connecticut, Nevada, and Ohio—had begun to include veterinary personnel in their vaccination delivery plans. The role of veterinarians in these plans varies.

“Interest on the part of some veterinarians is understandable, because the profession often responds to disasters and we naturally want to help,” according to the AVMA’s FAQ on COVID-19 vaccination.

The FAQ advises keeping in mind the following:

  • Veterinarians should not expect their veterinary malpractice insurance to cover them for human injury arising out of the administration of vaccines to people.
  • Veterinarians are not explicitly addressed in the federal Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act or the current declarations under it that provide limited immunity from liability arising out of, relating to, or resulting from administration or use of countermeasures, such as the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • There may be state-specific laws that provide immunity. They may need to be predicated by some emergency finding or declaration, and there may be specific requirements for veterinarians to be covered.

Categories of essential workers by COVID-19 vaccination phase

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that essential workers receive COVID-19 vaccines in Phase 1a, 1b, or 1c, as follows.

Essential health care workers (1a):
All paid and unpaid persons serving in health care settings who have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients or infectious materials. This includes persons not directly involved in patient care, but potentially exposed to infectious agents while working in a health care setting.

Essential non–health care workers:
Workers who are essential to maintain critical infrastructure and continue critical services and functions.

  • Front-line essential workers (1b): The subset of essential workers likely at highest risk for work-related exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, because their work-related duties must be performed on-site and involve being in close proximity (less than 6 feet) to the public or to co-workers.
  • Other essential workers (1c): Essential workers not included in Phase 1a or 1b.

The AVMA offers a summary of the COVID-19 vaccination situation for the veterinary profession, the webinar “COVID-19 Update: Veterinarians and Vaccines,” answers to frequently asked questions, and a back-office poster to encourage vaccination.