While industries in the United States are pushing for their workers to get early access to COVID-19 vaccines, local health departments and pharmacies face the challenge of verifying the identities of core workers to ensure no one crosses the border.
The ongoing vaccination campaign is now targeted at hospital staff and nursing homes – strictly controlled environments where testing is relatively easy. But starting in January or February, Americans employed in a variety of industries will be able to be vaccinated provided they are necessary front-line workers.
The lack of a plan to verify the jobs of vaccine candidates and confusion about who qualifies as significant increase the risk of fraud and disorganization.
Who decides which worker is important?
The criteria for qualifying as a basic worker working at the front vary from country to country. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated that approximately 30 million core workers will be next in line to shoot. An additional 57 million core workers will be vaccinated later.
The lack of clear guidelines will significantly complicate the verification process as these workers seek shots.
The United States has two approved vaccines against COVID-19, one from Pfizer and BioNTech and the other from Modern. Vaccines are performed as hospitals reach peak capacity, and the number of deaths has exceeded 317,000.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security released a list of key U.S. workers during the pandemic in March.
The list covers nearly 70 percent of the U.S. workforce and provided little clarity to health officials trying to distribute initially limited doses of vaccines.
Many states began developing their own priority lists over the summer, sometimes delaying the importance of local industry. States generally have wide discretion when it comes to the distribution of vaccines.
This has resulted in a variety of guidelines across the country, and companies complain that their workers are considered key in one state but not in another.
A panel of experts advising the CDC on Sunday recommended that people over 75 and workers, including first responders, teachers, food and agriculture, manufacturing, the U.S. Postal Service, workers in public transit and grocery stores, should have the following priority for vaccines.
Some US states have announced that they will still continue with the distribution plans they originally drafted.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he intends to give preference to people over the age of 65 in his state, rather than basic workers.
“As we enter the general community, vaccines will be targeted where the risk is greatest, and that is in our elderly population,” he told a news conference on Tuesday. “We will not put young, healthy workers ahead of our elderly, vulnerable population. “
FL gives priority to our elderly population for vaccination against COVID-19. We see progress made in relation to the residents of LTC facilities and will not put young and healthy “necessary” employees ahead of our general population over the age of 65 when it comes to vaccine distribution. pic.twitter.com/adbqIHjUiK
– Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) December 23, 2020
Michael Einhorn, president of New York-based medical equipment distributor Dealmed, criticized the decision by health officials to give priority to core workers for the next phase of the vaccine, rather than distributing it according to age limits.
“There will be people who will try to break the line and commit fraud to get the vaccine,” said Einhorn, whose company is involved in the distribution of the vaccine.
How will eligibility be confirmed?
It is not yet clear how health departments and pharmacies will verify the identity of a much larger and more diverse group of people eligible for the next round of vaccines.
Pharmacy operators CVS, Walgreens and Kroger referred to state and local guidelines when asked how they would check key workers.
“If the competent state requests support from Walgreens, Walgreens will distribute a voucher or approval form that an individual can use to schedule a vaccination appointment,” a Walgreens spokeswoman said in a statement.
CVS said it will share more information as it approaches the next phase of vaccine distribution in the first quarter of 2021.
Kroger said in a statement that customers will need to schedule an online meeting and use a verification tool to manage the verification process.
“In some cases, the state will identify and verify individuals before they are referred to us for vaccination,” spokeswoman Kroger said.
States have not indicated how they will verify the identity of the workers. Companies that advocate for the vaccination of their workers are exploring various possibilities.
The Consumer Brands Association, which represents food, beverage, personal care and household products companies, and the Food Industry Association, which represent food retailers, said they are developing letter forms for employees to confirm their basic worker status.
“We understand that states may have different labeling standards, but we are (working) to provide our members with resources that help reduce confusion,” a spokeswoman for the Food Industry Association said.