The first Americans received the COVID-19 vaccines in mid-December. By the end of January, however, many vets weren’t sure where they were in the vaccination line.
The AVMA House of Representatives discussed the COVID-19 pandemic during the Veterinary Information Forum during its regular winter session in early January, and many delegates focused on the launch of vaccines across the country.
AVMA has successfully campaigned for veterinarians to be among those prioritized for vaccination in federal guidelines. However, tactical decisions are made at the state, territorial and local levels – and the situation continues to evolve.
Other delegates touched on the ongoing difficulties with childcare during the pandemic.
Snapshots of situations
Dr. Cheryl Greenacre, Delegate of the Association of Avian Veterinarians, started the discussion by asking what government VMAs can do to lobby for Phase 1a veterinarians to be listed as health workers eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines.
Dr. José Arce, AVMA President-elect, said AVMA has been advocating veterinarians to be a priority group since September. AVMA provided comments to the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine on the draft discussion of the tentative framework for fair allocation of COVID-19 vaccines. The draft was intended to inform the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Interim Playbook on the vaccination program for judicial surgery.
In Puerto Rico, where Dr. Arce is alive, the Territory Veterinary Association met with the Territory Health Department and other health associations, and later with the National Guard. Veterinarians thought they were going to be frontline key personnel in Phase 1b, and they were surprised that they were scheduled for End 1a. Dr. Arce suggested that state VMAs should contact the state health department and join other health professionals.
Dr. Carol Ryan, Missouri delegate, said veterinarians are scheduled for Phase 1b in Missouri. No vets or veterinary staff could be vaccinated until early January. She was curious to see if staff were a priority group for veterinarians in other states.
In Puerto Rico, Dr. Arce, all members of the veterinary team qualify for the same stage. Veterinarians must present their practice license and a form stating that an employee is working in a veterinary clinic.
Dr. Washington state delegate Diana Thomé said the Washington state VMA posted a notice in early January that the state added a catchall in phase 1a to cover all healthcare workers. The WSVMA interpreted this as veterinarians and their teams. After the session of the House of Representatives, the WSVMA issued an update in which the health officials then informed the association that the veterinarians are in a later phase, which has yet to be determined.
Dr. Nevada delegate Jon Pennell said the Nevada VMA and the state veterinary board had filed a letter asking for veterinarians to be admitted to one of the earlier stages of vaccination. Dr. William Grant, California delegate, said he had just heard the good news that the California Department of Health has designated vets and veterinary staff for Phase 1a.
The following reason was used in the comments from AVMA to the National Academies:
- Veterinarians and veterinary teams contribute directly to the support of the food and agriculture industries and provide services that are considered essential to maintaining the viability of critical infrastructure. Not only do veterinarians provide vital support for adequate and safe food supplies in our country, they also help ensure the health and wellbeing of the pets that share our home. These pets played an important role in supporting the physical and mental well-being of their owners during the pandemic.
- Veterinary teams are at risk of exposure. While the veterinary profession has creatively carried out critical risk management controls during the pandemic, it can be difficult to maintain physical distance from our customers and employees when handling animals or performing medical procedures. In order to ensure adequate care for animals, we may be regularly exposed to members of the public who are symptomatically or asymptomatically ill, as well as certain animal species that we know may be infected with SARS-CoV-2.
- Veterinarians actively protect animal and public health by monitoring the SARS-CoV-2 virus in animals. Our monitoring function goes well beyond SARS-CoV-2 and includes other potentially zoonotic and non-zoonotic diseases.
- The high level of public trust in veterinarians supports veterinarians in actively providing information about the importance of vaccinations. Such a transmission is most effective when veterinarians and veterinary teams have received the vaccine themselves.
AVMA has developed a downloadable poster for the back office: “The fight against COVID-19 starts with you” to encourage all team members to get vaccinated as early as possible.
AVMA has also compiled a list of answers to frequently asked questions about vaccination against COVID-19.
One question is: “Can practice owners request that team members be vaccinated against COVID-19 if a vaccine is available to them?”
In response, according to US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines, “Employers can, under certain conditions, exclude workers from the job if they refuse to receive a vaccine. … However, the EEOC warns that the employer cannot automatically terminate the employee. … For example, the employee can be entitled to accommodation, for example to work remotely. … State law can deviate from federal law and prohibit employers from requiring employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. “
As the vaccine rollout continues, working parents in veterinary practices and elsewhere continue to juggle doing their job caring for young children as many schools and daycare centers remain closed.
Dr. Paul Toniolli, deputy delegate in Utah, said his office manager has started working from home. He’s had kids come to the clinic, which isn’t ideal, but the building has an area upstairs. Some employees have to stay home to watch their children. He has increased the pace himself, worked additional hours and is simply more flexible.
Dr. Arkansas delegate Lindy O’Neal said some exam rooms are not in use because her practice continues to operate at two roadside clinics. The practice enables staff to bring children in to have a place for them. One of the clinics even has a bedroom. Children are not allowed to come when they are quarantined, but using the empty exam rooms was a creative way to be flexible.