CDC recommends veterinarians be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended in mid-January that anyone providing veterinary services should be prioritized as key frontline personnel in Phase 1b of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution plans.

“AVMA has worked actively and successfully at the national level to ensure that policy makers understand the importance of veterinary services and the need to prioritize veterinary access to COVID vaccines,” said Dr. Douglas Kratt, President of AVMA, in a video highlighting AVMA resources for COVID-19 vaccination.

AVMA offers this back office poster to promote vaccination.

By February 2, at least 20 states had enrolled vets and other veterinary workers in Stage 1a, 1b, or 1c of their state COVID-19 vaccine distribution plans, according to AVMA. Phase 1a includes essential employees in the healthcare sector, while Phase 1c includes essential employees who are not in phase 1a or 1b.

On February 17, the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Phytosanitary Inspection Service announced that the agency had deployed 119 people, including veterinarians and animal health technicians, to support vaccination efforts in several states.

And while private practitioners may want to help vaccinate people, the AVMA recommends evaluating the possibility of legal risk in a contentious society before agreeing to do so.

Veterinary vaccines

“The rollout was a real challenge for those waiting to be vaccinated,” said Dr. Gail Golab, AVMA’s Chief Veterinary Officer. She spoke during the “COVID-19 Update: Veterinarians and Vaccines” webinar, which is available through AVMA Axon, AVMA’s online platform for training and other offers.

In September 2020, AVMA submitted comments to the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine on the “Draft Discussion of the Preliminary Framework for Fair Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccines”. The draft helped inform the CDC’s “Intermediate Playbook of the COVID-19 Immunization Program for Judicial Operations”.

Then, in January, the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices transposed the Agency’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Guidelines, which identified critical infrastructure personnel, to appropriate vaccination phases. During the pandemic, Dr. Golab, AVMA has made contributions to CISA and encouraged the agency to recognize veterinarians as essential critical infrastructure workers in all types of practices.

“When the rollout phases were derived from these CISA guidelines, those providing veterinary services were expressly and discreetly recommended for inclusion by the CDC in Phase 1b, and this was an extremely important federal win for veterinary medicine,” said Dr. Golab. “However, it is important to recognize that the final decisions about priorities for administering COVID-19 vaccines are actually being made at the state and territorial level, so vaccine availability to veterinary staff will vary by location.”

Dr. Golab said state and local VMAs have worked hard to support veterinary team access to COVID-19 vaccines. AVMA helped with information about federal developments as well as discussion points and communication support.

Illustration of people waiting in line for vaccination

Vets help with vaccination

Most of the staff employed by APHIS will help vaccinate people in Nevada and Oklahoma. The agency sent eight people to Texas to manage resources for a vaccination center. The agency also practically deployed six people to help Washington State plan vaccination efforts, four people to help Oregon, and nine people to help the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The AVMA knew that at least four states – Colorado, Connecticut, Nevada, and Ohio – had started including veterinary personnel in their vaccination schedules. The role of veterinarians in these plans varies.

“The interest of some veterinarians is understandable, as the profession often reacts to disasters and we naturally want to help,” says AVMA’s frequently asked questions about COVID-19 vaccination.

The frequently asked questions recommend the following:

  • Veterinarians shouldn’t expect their veterinary insurance to cover them against personal injury caused by giving vaccines to humans.
  • Veterinarians are not specifically addressed in the Federal Act on Public Preparedness and Emergency Preparedness or in the current statements that offer limited immunity from liability due to, in connection with, or due to the administration or use of countermeasures such as the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • There may be country-specific laws that guarantee immunity. They may need to be predicted by an emergency finding or statement, and there may be special requirements for veterinarians that need to be covered.