Veterinarians, recently retired veterinarians, and veterinary students may administer COVID-19 vaccines to people, as authorized by President Biden and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and under certain conditions. This is a voluntary activity, with the possible exception of veterinarians employed by federal and/or state governments that have directed them to provide vaccines as part of their employment.
Many veterinarians have expressed keen interest in volunteering as vaccinators. With this in mind, the AVMA has advocated strongly and successfully on behalf of veterinarians to ensure that appropriate authorities (e.g., scope of practice considerations) and liability protections are in place at the federal level to protect those who wish to do so.
The AVMA also has been very clear that if veterinarians are serving as vaccinators, we also should be prioritized to be vaccinated ourselves. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has publicly agreed by recommending the inclusion of veterinary services as a priority group for vaccine receipt in Phase 1-b.
PREP Act: What it covers
The Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act) authorizes the secretary of health and human services to issue a declaration to provide liability immunity to certain individuals and entities against any claim of loss caused by, arising out of, relating to, or resulting from the manufacture, distribution, administration, or use of medical countermeasures against COVID-19. The exception is claims involving willful misconduct.
The broad immunity provided by the PREP Act must be put into context. It creates an affirmative defense in litigation, but it does not stop anyone from bringing a lawsuit. Under the PREP Act, the federal government does not provide defense. Veterinary malpractice insurance likely will not cover a veterinarian intentionally injecting a person with a COVID-19 vaccine. What this means is that defense costs could potentially be borne out-of-pocket for the veterinarian.
7th Amendment to the PREP Act
A March 12, 2021, amendment to the PREP Act declaration provides for the following with respect to veterinarians and veterinary students:
- Allows veterinarians licensed or certified to practice under the law of any state to administer COVID-19 vaccines in any jurisdiction where the PREP Act applies, in association with a COVID-19 vaccination effort by a state, local, territorial, or tribal authority or by an institution in which the COVID-19 vaccine is administered.
- Also applies to veterinarians who have held an active license or certification under the law of any state within the past five years, but whose license is inactive, expired or lapsed, with the following conditions:
- The license or certification must have been active and in good standing prior to the date it went inactive, expired, or lapsed.
- The license cannot have been revoked by the licensing authority, surrendered while under suspension, discipline or investigation by a licensing authority, or surrendered following an arrest.
- The individual is not authorized if on the list of excluded individuals/entities maintained by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General.
- Allows veterinary students with appropriate training in administering vaccines as determined by their school or training program and under supervision by a currently practicing healthcare professional experienced in administering intramuscular injections to administer COVID-19 vaccines in any jurisdiction where the PREP Act applies in association with a COVID-19 vaccination effort by a state, local, territorial, or tribal authority or by an institution in which the COVID-19 vaccine is administered.
- Preempts any provision in state law that would otherwise prohibit veterinarians or veterinary students who are a “qualified person” under the PREP Act from prescribing, dispensing, or administering COVID-19 vaccines.
- Affords liability protections to veterinarians and veterinary students in accordance with the PREP Act and the terms of the declaration and amendments. Certain conditions must be met to obtain these liability protections. The liability protections apply from March 11, 2021, through October 1, 2024.
These specific conditions must be met for veterinarians and veterinary students to administer COVID-19 vaccines to people and for liability protections to apply:
- The vaccine must be authorized, approved, or licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
- The vaccination must be ordered and administered according to the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) COVID-19 vaccine recommendations.
- The veterinarian/veterinary student must be participating in association with a COVID-19 vaccination effort by a state, local, territorial, or tribal authority or by an institution in which the COVID-19 vaccine is administered.
- The veterinarian/veterinary student must have documentation of completion of the CDC COVID-19 Vaccine Training Modules and, if applicable, such additional training as may be required by the state, territory, locality, or tribal area in which they are prescribing, dispensing, or administering COVID-19 vaccines.
- The veterinarian/veterinary student must have documentation of an observation period by a currently practicing healthcare professional experienced in administering intramuscular injections to humans and for whom administering such injections is within their ordinary scope of practice, who confirms the competency of the individual in the preparation and administration of the COVID-19 vaccine.
- The veterinarian/veterinary student must have a current certificate in basic cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). This requirement is satisfied by, among other things, a certification in basic CPR by an online program that has been accredited by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), or the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME).
- The veterinarian/veterinary student must comply with recordkeeping and reporting requirements of the jurisdiction in which they administer vaccines, including informing the patient’s primary care provider when available, submitting the required immunization information to the state or local immunization information system (vaccine registry), complying with requirements with respect to reporting adverse events, and complying with requirements whereby the person administering the vaccine must review the vaccine registry or other vaccination records prior to administering a vaccine.
- The veterinarian/veterinary student must comply with any applicable requirements or conditions of use set forth in the CDC’s COVID-19 vaccination provider agreement and any other federal requirements that apply to the administration of COVID-19 vaccines.
State laws and immunity
There also may be state laws that provide immunity and that may or may not also provide a defense. They may have their own unique requirements, so interested volunteers should check with your state to see what immunity is available and what is required to secure it.
Uniformed services and federal employees, contractors and volunteers
A separate section of the PREP Act declaration applies to those in the uniformed services and to federal employees, contractors, and volunteers.